Legal Overview of Sting Operation
The most important structure of democracy is informed citizens, informed about the functioning of the government, making of policies and accountability. The burden of informing the citizens is with the media, as they have the power to information and networking. For it is really important to disclose the truth, it may so happen that certain out of the box step needs to be taken i.e. the sting operation. A sting operation is not defined legally nor it is mentioned in any law or statute.
A sting operation may be defined as an action that is taken secretly to expose a person or to catch a person red-handedly in doing something which is of evil nature. It is a method adopted by the media to make the citizens and victims updated. A sting operation raises many issues of morality, constitutionality, and legality. The question of privacy and confidentiality is at stake.
Sting operation and its legality
In a judgment delivered by the Apex Court, it was clarified that a sting operation cannot be construed to be legal and is not the apt method of law enforcement. It is very much possible to capture a person in a trap and frame charges against him. The Supreme Court highlighted that to highlight the crime of a criminal, we are committing an act of culpable nature. A sting operation is deceiving a person and luring the person to commit the offense with the promise of confidentiality.
In the case of the State of U.P v Raj Narain, Justice Mathews speaking of the necessity of sting operation told, certainly the public need to be informed about the acts of government and the public functionaries. This right to be informed is a part of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Does freedom of the press give them the right to invade into the private space? The Law Commission made recommendations to the Centre to makes laws curtailing the freedom of media from invading privacy rights.
In a sting operation carried out by Live India, showed a teacher with Delhi Government School to be involved in forcing a girl student into prostitution. Following the sting operation, there was chaos and the crowd misbehaved with the teacher. The whole incident was published in the newspaper, to which the Delhi High Court Suo motto acted ordering for an inquiry into the matter. On the completion of the inquiry, the teacher was found to be innocent.
In the case of Vijay Shekar v Union of India, after conducting a sting operation, a warrant was issued against some eminent person in lieu of exposing the corruption which is being carried out in the subordinate courts of Gujarat. The Supreme Court declared this to be illegal and also directed the journalist to give an unconditional apology.
In the Annirudhha Bahal v State, for raising questions in the house of Parliament, 11 MPs were accused of being given bribe. The Sting operation (Operation Duryodhana) was carried out jointly by cobrapost.com, Aniruddha Bahal, and Aaj Tak. However, an FIR was lodged against the petitioners who had conducted the sting operation. In Rajat Prasad v CBI, the Supreme held that the person who conducted sting operation can be held liable under section 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act for abatement of the offense.
A sting operation is carried out without the consent of the person and even if it is successful, it is not admissible in the court of law as valid evidence to prove the guilt. Sri. Bhardwaj Media Pvt. Ltd. v. State, is one of such instances where the court admitted the evidence and also stated that there would be a high increase in corruption if the person who helps curtail corruption is punished. Therefore, there are situations wherein public interest pieces of evidence are allowed in the court as evidence.
Action Against sting operation
There are various actions which can be taken:
- Under torts, an action can be taken for unlawful invasion.
- Under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution for violation of the Right to life.
- Under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution for violation of the right of privacy.
- Under section 12 of Prevention of Corruption Act, for abatement of an offense.
The very nature of the Constitution needs to be protected which guarantees every individual right to privacy. At the same time, another important aspect of democracy is an informed citizenry, and which requires corrupt people to stay away from the system. With the ongoing clash of truth and legality, the Supreme Court has declared sting operation as illegal and the person involved in the offense can be held guilty of abatement of the offense.
 R.K. Anand v. Registrar; CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1451 OF 2008
 1975 AIR 865
 17th Law Commission in its 200th Report
 WP (Crl) No. 1175/2007
 Court on its own motion v. State
 2004 4 SCC 666
 AIR 2010 172 DLT 268: (2010) 119 DRJ 102
 AIR 2014 6 SCC 495
 (W.P. (Crl.) Nos. 1125 and 1126/2007