SC seeks Google India’s assistance on location sharing as bail condition | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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SC seeks Google India’s assistance on location sharing as bail condition

Feb 23, 2024 04:44 PM IST

The Supreme Court asked Google India to file an affidavit explaining the working of the Google PIN in the context of putting it as a condition of granting bail

With the Union government failing to explain how the Google Maps PIN works, the Supreme Court on Friday directed Google India to explain the technical aspects of dropping a PIN and whether a condition requiring an accused to continue providing investigators with information about whereabouts are likely to infringe the individual’s right to privacy.

A bench of justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan issued a notice to Google India. (ANI)
A bench of justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan issued a notice to Google India. (ANI)

A bench of justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan issued notice to Google India Pvt Ltd, pointing out that the Centre has been unable to explain the working of the Google PIN and rather suggested that the company should be asked to share the technical aspects of the movement tracker.

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“The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) has given an affidavit and has suggested that as far as working of the Google PIN is concerned, it’s appropriate if the information is sought from Google India Pvt Ltd. We therefore issue notice to Google India Pvt Ltd... We make it clear that we are not impleading them as a party respondent in the case but only for obtaining information on the working of the Google PIN,” the bench said in its order.

The order said that Google India would file its affidavit explaining the working of the Google PIN in the context of putting it as a condition of granting bail.

The court’s decision to examine the issue comes amid a recent trend when several bail orders mandate that bail seekers share their location with law enforcement authorities. Given the widespread use of GPS-enabled smartphones, courts across the country have been including the sharing of mobile locations as one of the conditions of bail.

The bench was hearing a petition against an order of bail granted by the Delhi high court to an accused – a Nigerian national, in a case registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

Additional solicitor-general Vikramjeet Banerjee appeared on behalf of the Centre in the matter while senior counsel Vinay Navare assisted it as amicus curie. Advocate Varun Mishra represented the accused in the case.

The high court, in its May 2022 order, put two stringent conditions – one, the accused shall drop a PIN on Google Map to ensure that their location is available to the investigation officer of the case; and second, the high commission of Nigeria must place on record an assurance that the accused shall not leave the country and will appear before the trial court as and when required.

During the previous hearing of the matter last year, the top court took umbrage at both these conditions, observing that the condition of sharing of Google PIN may prima facie offend the privacy rights of the accused, as assured under Article 21 of the Constitution. It remarked in July 2023 that once an accused has been set at liberty following the imposition of certain reasonable conditions, it may not be appropriate to track his movements at the expense of the right to privacy.

Subsequently, in August 2023, it directed the Meity to file an affidavit elaborating the technical aspects and consequences of the dropping of a Google PIN, adding the Centre’s affidavit must incorporate a comprehensive view from an expert.

Earlier this month, Meity filed its affidavit but failed to elucidate on the technical aspects of Google PIN and the information about a person that may get tracked when a person drops a PIN on a location in Google Maps. It suggested the apex court should seek all the details about the Google PIN from Google India Pvt Ltd, which it said, would be better placed to apprise the bench of the technology behind Google PIN and the ambit of surveillance.

Accordingly, the court on Friday proceeded to seek an affidavit from the company. At the same time, the court set aside the two stringent conditions and granted bail to the accused.

“Prima facie, we are of the view that such onerous conditions cannot be put because no embassy will be able to fulfil such conditions. Therefore, we direct that those conditions put in the impugned order may not be complied with. The petitioner is released on interim bail on the conditions imposed by the courts below except dropping a Google PIN and assurance from the high commission of Nigeria,” the order said.

In October 2023, the court in a separate case agreed to examine another order of the Delhi high court that required an accused to keep sharing his movement details with the investigating officer every eight hours as a condition for bail. This matter was disposed of in December after noting that the issues regarding privacy and other concerns were being dealt with in the other case about a bail order in an NDPS case.

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