In another instance of arbitrary search of mobile phones, the Andhra Pradesh police has reportedly indulged in checking mobile devices of people traveling to the state at border points. The search operations are a part of tight security arrangements at the state border areas following the arrest of Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu in a Skill Development scam worth Rs 371 Crores.
According to a report by India Today, IT employees from Hyderabad had proposed a car rally on September 24 to AP’s Rajahmundry city where Naidu has been jailed. However, the state has refused permission for the rally under Section 144 CrPC, which has been imposed in Vijayawada city. Deccan Chronicle has reported stating that the police have been checking cars and details of every traveller at the border to prevent IT employees from reaching protest sites. Citizens have taken to Twitter to express their discontent against the drive.
AP police is stopping people entering AP to potentially protest against Chandra Babu Naidu's arrest and checking their WhatsApp messages. https://t.co/tf69SeHuJW
— Srinivas Kodali (@digitaldutta) September 24, 2023
Why it matters:
The phone-checking drive carried out by AP police highlights the ease with which citizens are increasingly being subjected to policing activities that severely impact one’s privacy rights and personal liberty. While Hyderabad police has gained enough popularity for such search and frisking operations, such incidents have also been reported from other states in the recent past. For example, in April 2022, Vijayawada police went around collecting people’s iris scans publicly to check if they were criminals. In May 2022, the Gujarat police had also conducted a ‘digital combing’ drive of people’s mobile phones in Valsad district to crack down on dissemination of pornography. Experts like independent tech researcher Srinivas Kodali have also pointed out in the past that, such measures usually affect people from lower income groups, and marginalised communities, who would not be in a position to resist powerful actions by the police, irrespective of the individual’s consent.
Article continues below ⬇, you might also want to read:
- Gujarat Police Scan Phones For Porn In The Absence Of Legal Grounds
- Legal Notice To Hyderabad Police Seeks Action Against Cops Searching Citizens’ Phones
- Hyderabad Police Conducts Arbitrary Search Operations At Local Hotels To Maintain “Peace”
- How Can Surveillance Technologies Perpetuate Police Abuse Of Powers? A Report Explores
Can police check people’s phones arbitrarily in public?
In November 2021, Kodali along with the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), had sent a legal notice to Hyderabad city police arguing that the warrantless phone-checking drive by police was not permissible under the law.
He also explained that the police do not have any powers under the Criminal Procedure Code 1973 or any other statute to randomly request citizens to unlock their phones and search contents of the device to find evidence of any alleged illegal activities.
“While it is obvious that the right to privacy is not absolute, persons without any formal accusation / reasonable suspicion against them are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of their mobile phone and the contents thereof. The questioned activity erodes this expectation without cause and is an obvious weapon of abuse as police officers can wade into the intimate details of any person’s private life. There cannot be a more direct and patent violation of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty that your good office has a sworn oath to protect,” Kodali argued in the notice.
STAY ON TOP OF TECH NEWS: Our daily newsletter with the top story of the day from MediaNama, delivered to your inbox before 9 AM. Click here to sign up today!