Police Can't Peep into Private Life: SC on Why Sharing Google PIN Location Can't be a Bail Condition
Abhimanyu Hazarika (Bar  and  Bench) 09 July 2024
Bail conditions enabling investigating agencies to constantly track the whereabouts of an accused are arbitrary and unlawful, the Supreme Court held on Monday (Frank Vitus v. Narcotics Control Bureau and Ors).
 
A Bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan held so in a judgment where it ruled that it is not permissible for courts to order an accused to share his Google PIN location with the police authorities as a condition for the grant of bail.
 
"The Court cannot impose a condition on the accused to keep the Police constantly informed about his movement from one place to another. The object of the bail condition cannot be to keep a constant vigil on the movements of the accused enlarged on bail. The investigating agency cannot be permitted to continuously peep into the private life of the accused enlarged on bail, by imposing arbitrary conditions since that will violate the right of privacy of the accused, as guaranteed by Article 21," the 8th July judgment said.
 
The Court made it clear that a constant vigil cannot be kept on every movement of an accused through technology.
 
The Court further emphasised that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. This principle cannot be undermined by harsh bail conditions, the Court explained.
 
"We can say that the bail conditions cannot be fanciful, arbitrary or freakish ... We are dealing with a case of the accused whose guilt is yet to be established ... He cannot be deprived of all his rights guaranteed under Article 21. The Courts must show restraint while imposing bail conditions ... Courts can curtail the freedom of the accused only to the extent required for imposing the bail conditions warranted by law. Bail conditions cannot be so onerous as to frustrate the order of bail itself," the judgment stated. 
 
Moreover, sharing of Google pin location does not enable real¬-time tracking of the user or the user's device, and as such is redundant as a bail condition even in drug-related cases, the Court observed.
 
The Court added that just because other Benches of the Supreme Court had earlier imposed such conditions for bail, it did not prevent the striking down of such a condition.
 
"In this case, the condition of dropping a PIN on Google Maps has been incorporated without even considering the technical effect of dropping a PIN and the relevance of the said condition as a condition of bail ... The condition deserves to be deleted ... In some cases, this Court may have imposed a similar condition. But in those cases, this Court was not called upon to decide the issue of the effect and legality of such a condition," the Court said.
 
The judgment came in an appeal against certain conditions imposed by the Delhi High Court while granting interim bail to a Nigerian national, Frank Vitus, who was accused in a drugs case.
 
As a condition for the grant of bail, the High Court had ordered the accused man and a co-accused to drop a pin on Google Maps so that their location was available to the investigation officer.
 
The accused were also asked to get an assurance from the High Commission of Nigeria that the accused would not leave India and would appear before the trial court.
 
This condition has also now been deleted by the apex court.
 
The Court clarified that such a certificate from the Embassy is not required in all cases where a foreign national is granted bail due to delays in concluding a criminal trial.  It will depend on the facts of each case, the Court said. 
 
The Court explained that the accused generally has no control over whether the Embassy would give such an assurance, or whether the Embassy would respond to such requests in a timely manner. 
 
In such cases, the accused cannot be made to remain in jail despite being entitled to bail and courts have the power to delete such a condition, the Supreme Court said. 
 
"In such a case, instead of the condition of obtaining such a certificate, the condition of surrendering the passport and regularly reporting to the local station/ Trial Court can always be imposed, depending on the facts of each case," the Court suggested. 
 
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