Delhi HC notice to I-T Department on plea by Newslaundry

The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice to the Income Tax (I-T) Department on a petition by online news portal Newslaundry and its CEO Abhinandan Sekhri to not leak any material seized during a recent survey at its office in South Delhi.

Newslaundry, in its plea, stated I-T officials impounded a hard disk and cloned the office desktop, laptop and phone of Mr. Sekhri, his personal email accounts and a bunch of papers.

The petition contended that the seized material contained private data, including chats and communications of Mr. Sekhri.

Senior advocate Siddharth Dave, along with advocate Nipun Katyal, representing Newslaundry, raised the apprehension that the private data, which do not have any incriminating or relevant material for the purposes of income tax or any other legal proceedings, would not be secure in the hands of the I-T Department.

They said the private data could be “misused/ leaked/ illegally released in the public domain”, which would be a breach of Mr. Sekhri’s privacy.

“This apprehension is well founded since the Respondent [IT Department] did not give the hash value of the data after seizing it,” their petition said.

A Bench of Justices Manmohan and Navin Chawla asked the I-T Department to respond to the petition by September 21.

Newslaundry, in its petition, said that the department issued its first notice on June 29 this year. In pursuance to the notice, Mr. Sekhri duly cooperated with the officials of the department and complied with the instructions given by its officials.

“It is apposite to mention that the Respondent [I-T Department], having found nothing of relevance in June, 2021, launched its second round of attack, with the intent to harass the petitioners,” the plea said.

“The said action is the Second Round by the Respondent, asking for the same documents, queries with a single motive, i.e., harassment of the petitioner and infringing the journalistic freedom of the petitioner guaranteed by the Constitution,” the plea said.

Newlaundry said the I-T officials did not give sufficient time to Mr. Sekhri to delete personal information such as private photographs, private WhatsApp chats and text messages.

Newslaundry said it was into investigative journalism, and the electronic devices contained sensitive journalistic data and personal data of Mr. Sekhri. If the data was leaked, it would be an extreme breach of privacy and cause irreparable loss to him, it said.

The I-T Department conducted surveys on the official premises of another digital media platform, NewsClick, the same day on September 10.

In February, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had searched premises linked to NewsClick in connection with an alleged money laundering probe into receipt of funds from overseas.

Later, the High Court directed the ED not to take any coercive action against Newsclick founder and editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha in connection with the case subject to his joining the investigation.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 10:51:55 PM |

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