Supreme Court, Google Maps
Supreme Court, Google Maps 

Courts cannot order accused to share Google pin location as condition for bail: Supreme Court

Abhimanyu Hazarika

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that it is not permissible for courts to order an accused to share his Google PIN location with the authorities as a condition for the grant of bail [Frank Vitus v. Narcotics Control Bureau and Ors].

A Bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan pronounced the verdict this morning.

"Two things we have said. There cannot be bail condition defeating purpose of bail. We have said Google PIN cannot be a condition; police cannot peep into accused's private life for bail. And even regarding the NOC, we have said it cannot be so stringent," the Bench said.

Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Ujjal Bhuyan

The Bench had earlier directed Google India to explain how its pin location-sharing feature on Google Maps works.

It had on April 29, while reserving its verdict on this aspect, remarked that such a condition is hit by the right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Senior Advocate Vinay Navare is Amicus Curiae in the matter.

Advocate Varun Mishra appeared for the petitioner and Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee appeared for the Narcotics Control Bureau.

The Supreme Court today made it clear that bail conditions cannot be 'fanciful, arbitrary or freakish'.

"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 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".

A constant vigil cannot be kept on every movement through technology, it was stressed.

Further, Google pin sharing as a feature for bail was declared redundant since it is not necessarily real-time tracking either.

"The (locating sharing) 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 apex court stated in parting.

The order came in an appeal against certain conditions imposed by the Delhi High Court in its order granting interim bail to a Nigerian national, Frank Vitus, who was an accused in a drugs case.

As a condition for the grant of bail, the High Court in 2022 had ordered the accused man and a co-accused to drop a pin on Google Maps to ensure that their location was available to the Investigation Officer of the case.

The accused were also asked by the Delhi High Court 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 been deleted by the apex court in the instant judgment.

The Supreme Court had earlier expressed its disapproval of such conditions and granted interim bail to the accused.

In July last year, the Court had taken strong objection to a similar bail condition imposed on an accused in the Shakti Bhog Bank fraud case, which required him to constantly send the police the details of his location by sharing Google pins.

The Bench led by Justice Oka had orally observed that such a condition may amount to surveillance.

[Read judgment]

Frank Vitus v Narcotics Control Bureau and Ors.pdf

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