Can the Police Seize the Phones Of Those Under Investigation

  • Yes. Section 102 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the police the right to seize material they think will be valuable as part of investigation. 
  • The sections on the power of a police officer to seize certain property says, 
  • “ Any police officer, may seize any property which may be alleged or suspected to have been stolen, or which may be found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence. Such police officer..shall forthwith report the seizure to the Magistrate having jurisdiction and where the property seized.” 
  • NCB, a central agency which is technically not police, gets similar powers of ‘search and seizure’ from the NDPS Act.

What if the person has not been named as an accused?

  • Section 102 of the CrPC gives the police the power to seize the mobile/laptop/private diary or anything that they think will help them investigate the case. 
  • It doesn’t matter if the person is an accused or just a witness in the case as long as the police believe he/she has something that will aid the investigation.

Are there any safeguards to respect the privacy of the person whose phone is seized?

  • It is expected that an investigating officer takes personal devices for investigation alone and it is not to be leaked to anyone. 
  • However, if someone feels that his data is being leaked, he/she can approach the court hearing the matter seeking the agency be restrained from making leaks that could lead to defamation.

What is hash value in cases of electronic goods?

  • When an agency seizes a mobile, laptop or any electronic devices, they have to take the hash value. 
  • A hash value is basically an algorithm which is a specific numerical value that identifies the contents of the file at a particular time. 
  • If there is any attempt made to change the content of the device, the hash value will change. 
  • When the device is given to a forensic authority, to retrieve data, they are expected to go ahead only if the hash value recorded at the time of seizure is the same as the one on the device when they handed it over to them. 
  • It ensures sanctity of the data.
  •  If during a raid, there are no experts to take hash value, officers are supposed to seal the phone in a bag which is then opened in front of cyber experts.
  • Even in cases of computers, officers are not supposed to switch off the computer – as data could be lost – and just pull out the wire and seal it.