Media should mask names of persons acquitted in criminal cases from digital records

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Pointing out that the Personal Data Protection Act also recognises the right of erasure of personal data, the court said that evolving laws across the globe are moving towards the right to be forgotten, and right of correction and erasure.

Pointing out that the Personal Data Protection Act also recognises the right of erasure of personal data, the court said that evolving laws across the globe are moving towards the right to be forgotten, and right of correction and erasure.
| Photo Credit: File photo

The High Court of Karnataka wants the media to consider masking, delisting and deleting the names of accused persons from their respective digital records, and not drive such people to courts to seek directions for deletion of their names.

Justice M. Nagaprasanna made these observations while directing the High Court’s registry to mask the name and other personal details of a 27-year-old petitioner, who was given a clean chit in a criminal case, from the court’s digital records to honour his right to live with dignity.

In any crime, the court said, “once the accused gets acquitted honourably, or discharged by a competent court of law, or the High Court quashes criminal proceedings in exercise of its power under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and such orders become final, the shadow of crime, if permitted to continue in place of shadow of dignity, on any citizen, would be travesty of the concept of life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

“The direction would be only to enable the internet forget, like the humans forget. If it is allowed to stay on record, the internet will never permit the humans to forget,” Justice Nagaprasanna observed while relying on the apex court’s judgement in K.S. Puttaswamy’s case on right to privacy.

Pointing out that the Personal Data Protection Act, notified on August 11, 2023, which will come into force from the date of publication in the official gazette, also recognises the right of erasure of personal data, the court said that evolving laws across the globe are moving towards the right to be forgotten, and right of correction and erasure.

Quoting a 2018 judgment of the Queen’s Bench of the United Kingdom in NT1 Vs Google LLC in which the bench had declined to accept Google’s contention on delisting, had pointed out that essence of this judgment is that “even an accused who has been discharged or acquitted honourably by a competent court of law has a right to live with dignity”.

The High Court also took note of a direction issued by the Supreme Court to mask names of a couple in a case involving offence of modesty of women and sexually transmitted diseases, and a 2023 order of the High Court of Delhi in directing various media platforms to remove name of an accused as a criminal case against him was quashed by way of a settlement with the complainant woman.

Background of the case

The petitioner was booked on complained filed by the father of a girl for allegedly sending sexually intimidating message to his daughter through social media. However, on investigation, the police filed a “B” report stating that it was a ‘false’ case. The “B” report was accepted by the jurisdictional court resulting in closure of the case against the petitioner.

He approached the High Court in October 20221 seeking bail, but his petition was closed in February 2022 as the police by then had filed the ‘B’ report.

However, in the present petition, he sought a direction to the High Court, Google India Private Limited, and Indiakanoon.com for removal of his name in the digital records of his bail petition while pointing out that his name gets displayed on searching the internet. As a result, he is losing job offers despite being found innocent in the criminal case.

Though Google and Indiakanoon.com have masked his name, it was argued on behalf of the Registrar-General of the High Court that merely because he is discharged on accepting the ‘B’ report, or an accused gets acquitted, would not mean that his name should not figure as an accused… The the deeds committed by the accused will always follow him, and the request of the petitioner for masking should not be acceded to merely because his name figures in the court’s digital data it cannot be said that the petitioner is put to any prejudice.”

Justice Nagaprasanna rejected the contentions on behalf of the Registrar-General, and observed that the “petitioner, who was once an accused becomes blame-free today, and hence he stands on a higher pedestal than any of the accused who would get acquitted after a full blown trial”.

“If the result of due process of law is absolving of any person of alleged guilt, those persons become the ones who would get a right to live with dignity, having no blame against them,” the High Court observed.



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