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Can police make you unlock your phone? It depends on how it’s locked

16 Aug 2023

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By: Anuj Berry (Partner) and Aryan Agrawal (Associate)

The Kerala High Court has held that just because a suspect has information about a crime in his phone, the police can’t seize it without following established legal procedure.

The Kerala High Court held on 10 July that the police can’t seize a suspect’s phone without following the procedure established by law. The suspect, a journalist, had approached the court with a grievance that the police seized their phone without implicating them in any crime or being called as a witness in an investigation. The court held that “simply because the journalist has got some information about the crime, the mobile phone cannot be seized…”

While the law regarding phone confiscation is in place in India—that is, a warrant is required— whether an officer can, after seizing a phone, compel a suspect to unlock their phone and access the data in it has the unfortunate lawyerly response of ‘it depends’. The law is muddied on this issue.

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