The Karnataka High Court in a significant verdict has asserted the responsibility of investigating officers in a case to maintain the confidentiality of digital data received from the accused during investigations. The verdict was passed while hearing the petition of Virendra Khanna who challenged the order of the Special Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances trial court which directed him to provide the password of his phone to the police for investigations.
"The responsibility of safeguarding the information or data which could impinge on the privacy of the person will always be that of the investigating officer," Justice Suraj Govindaraj said, as quoted by LiveLaw. If the same is found to have been furnished to any third party, the investigation officer would be proceeded against for dereliction of duty."
In another significant part of the judgement, the court also held that a search warrant would be needed to access private digital data on phones and laptops instead of simply an order to co-operate with the investigation. While retrieving data for investigation during a criminal case did not violate the right to privacy, leaking it deliberately to third parties without permission from the court would be considered as such, the judge held.
The court also noted that while the accused was free to deny access to their digital devices, "adverse inference" could be drawn from this by the investigating officers to use in the trial.
"Once the investigating agency has an access to electronic equipment, the investigating officer is free to access all data and not only on the said equipment but also any cloud service that may be connected to the said equipment," the verdict reads.
Though such data may not be incriminatory, it may be very private or secret to the person or such data could incriminate the said person in any particular offence. The disclosure making public or otherwise in court proceedings would have to be determined by the concerned judge by passing a judicial order.