Cannot Coerce Accused To Reveal Passwords Of Gadgets: Delhi High Court

Cannot Coerce Accused To Reveal Passwords Of Gadgets: Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court says the accused is innocent until proven guilty (File)

New Delhi:

An accused in a criminal case cannot be coerced to disclose the passwords of his or her gadgets and digital devices to the investigating agency, the Delhi High Court said.

The court’s observations came while granting bail to a person accused of running call centers in the country and defrauding US citizens to the tune of about $20 million.

Justice Saurabh Banerjee said that while an accused is expected to show “high sensitivity, diligence and understanding” during investigation, the agency cannot expect him to “sing in a tune which is music to their ears” in view of protection under Article 20(3 ) of the Constitution.

Article 20(3) states that no person, who is accused of any offense, shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

The CBI opposed the bail plea on the ground that the applicant is the real kingpin behind the entire racket and that it was waiting for him to share the passwords to unlock the gadgets or digital devices.

“In the opinion of this court, any accused like the applicant herein, is always very much expected to not only join the investigation, but also to participate therein, so as not to cause any hindrance to the ongoing investigation,” the court said in a recent orders.

“At the same time, the investigating agency concerned cannot expect anyone who is an accused, like the applicant herein, to sing in a tune which is music to their ears, more so, when such an accused, like the applicant herein is well and truly protected under Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India. Also, in the present case, as the trial is ongoing, the applicant cannot be forced to reveal/disclose the password(s) or any other like details in view of the aforesaid protection guaranteed to him under the Constitution of India,” the court said.

According to the FIR, a company, E-Sampark Softech Pvt. Ltd, along with its directors, including the present applicant, made millions of scam calls to the US from fraud call centers in India and defrauded Americans to the tune of about $20 million by impersonating various US government officials.

It was stated that the accused would threaten people in the US with arrest, initiation of a criminal case, penalty, fine, or seizure of property and forced them to pay through various means such as wire transfers, bank or cash transfers.

The court, while granting bail to the applicant on a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh and one surety of the like amount, observed that keeping him in prison would serve no fruitful purpose and that he was innocent until proven guilty.

It was noted that the investigation qua the applicant was complete, the charge sheet was filed and the proceedings primarily revolved around electronic evidence including laptops, mobile phones, and other such sophisticated gadgets, which have already been seized.

It added that there are minuscule chances of the applicant influencing the witnesses and the applicant did not misuse the interim bail of 203 days given to him earlier.

“This court cannot forget that although the applicant has been named in the FIR as an accused, however, until the final outcome of the proceedings emanating therefrom, the status of the applicant is merely that of a suspect. The applicant is innocent until proven guilty … In view thereof, keeping the applicant behind bars will lead to a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the court said.