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Into the unknown: search and seizure of digital devices in India 

The search and seizure of digital devices is a highly contested topic in India. From the legitimacy of scouring through an individual’s information, to an uptick in use of tech in crime, to ultimately the legality of it all, Medianama’s G Aarathi explores the bigger picture.

Andrea* was in her early twenties when the police raided a party she was attending at an upscale neighbourhood in Bengaluru. A friend leaving the party was stopped by the police—who found drugs on him. Officers soon tracked him back to the house where it all started, and the next day, the guests found themselves called in to the local police station for questioning. Bear in mind, the police in India’s tech capital have been conducting a major crackdown on drugs over the past few years—with drug-related arrests somberly announced on the force’s Instagram page. 

Andrea and some of her male friends also found themselves at the thana, or station, answering questions on whether they knew what ‘pot’ was (that’s marijuana, for the uninitiated), and whether they’d smoked it at the party. “They asked that question because they’d seen it in other people’s phones that they examined,” Andrea told me. “Messages like, ‘bro, I have pot on me’.” Soon after, Andrea’s phone, and her friends’, were collected by the investigating officers too.

“The [oral] reason they gave us before taking our phones was to see if we had any contacts of the people they were searching for, dealers and stuff, basically,” Andrea explained, clarifying that the police did not have a warrant for the search. “They made us tell them our passcodes, and they wrote it down on a piece of paper. They then held onto my phone for a good two or three hours.”

The first thing the male police officer did upon opening Andrea’s phone was to search for the names of specific contacts. “He couldn’t find anything,” she said. “So he went to my WhatsApp and he just scrolled around and he searched for keywords like ‘pot’, ‘weed’, ‘green’.” Nothing was there, either.

“But, then he went through my gallery,” Andrea said. “He was pretty respectable from the start, but then as he was scrolling, there were some pictures that obviously I wouldn’t want him to see because I’m a girl. There’s some gym-related photos. There’s some things that are shirtless [as I’m wearing a sports bra]. Maybe not sexual, but there’s still a lot of revealing things. He saw them while scrolling, and then said, ‘madam, I don’t want to see anything personal. I’m just looking for what I have to’.” 

***

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The Bengaluru police aren’t alone in checking phones for ‘pot’-related keywords without a warrant—a few years ago, the Hyderabad police were criticised for randomly stopping commuters to check their phones for dodgy information. These ‘searches’ aren’t just confined to mobiles, though. Police officers in Hyderabad also seized multiple laptops from poll strategist Sunil Kanugolu’s office last year, allegedly without the required search warrants.

These are just one among many examples hinting towards an increasingly common reality in India—the search and seizure of digital devices by investigating agencies, allegedly without the warrants needed to do so (these are typically issued under India’s criminal investigation procedure codes). The consequences are that the police may rifle through the person’s private life contained in the device without restriction, tamper with evidence, or hold them indefinitely, all at the cost of much more than just the person’s privacy rights.

The rationale: “Technology has increased, and everyone has a mobile phone [or some other device] now, which has all the basic information you need,” a senior cybercrime police inspector in Bengaluru told me. “Using that, you can piece together the investigation.” I asked them if it’s absolutely necessary to seize these devices—and whether information can be gathered through less intrusive means. They pause before saying, with a hint of a smile, “if I want to investigate a crime fully, at 100%, then I need to access these devices and examine them. If I am only interested in investigating 50%, then I don’t need to.”

The police officer told me that when an arrest is made, warrants are used to seize the devices, while court orders authorise the inspection of the devices themselves. “We will seize everything,” they say. “Criminal acts aren’t located to a single device. We will check everything on the phone that we need to—like the person’s Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, it’s not restricted to one thing.” Various cyber forensic tools are used to analyse the devices and extract data, although the officer refused to disclose the names of these softwares. “Say someone has deleted their WhatsApp chats, we can use a tool to retrieve information on the kinds of messages they sent, who they were communicating with, and more,” he said.

I ask them about a case like Andrea’s, where phones were taken away without an arrest or a warrant or a court order, yet searched rather intimately. “That is a preliminary inquiry, that is fine,” they say, with the wave of a hand. “If there is nothing to be found on the phone, then we cannot arrest them.”

The fix: “In the modern context, perhaps the most important clues are probably found on your phone,” the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy’s Alok Prasanna Kumar said. “There needs to be a way in which the police are able to carry out that investigation, and get the relevant material, but without fundamentally committing breaches of privacy. What is needed is a much clearer delineation for the police—that this is what you can do, and this is what you cannot.”

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These issues have reached the Supreme Court as well—where pending petitions filed by a group of academics, a group of media professionals, and even Amazon have criticised non-procedural seizure of devices. Broadly arguing that these practices can have detrimental effects on the accused’s rights to privacy, and against self-incrimination, the petitions largely seek guidelines from the apex court to help reign in the non-compliance of investigating agencies. The Indian government has rebutted that its agencies scrupulously follow the search and seizure guidelines mentioned in a mysterious and non-public 2020 Central Bureau of Investigation manual. The petitioners responded that these practices “barely scratch the surface” of the kinds of protections that Indian citizens should be afforded with during criminal investigations.

“This is the problem which those pending cases in the Supreme Court might clarify,” Alok Prasanna Kumar added. “The potential guidelines can answer what can police do with your phone? What rights do you have as both an accused or just somebody participating in an investigation? Even if they collect information from me, what can they do with it?”

Critics note that a search and seizure provisions for digital evidence embedded into India’s new criminal and broadcasting laws may also legitimise these illegitimate seizures. The top court, or any other law, issuing guidelines for such investigations may help partly counter procedural impropriety.

The senior police officer agrees with this sentiment, adding that cases where warrants are not produced to safely procure evidence could be due to different policing standards across states. “Procedural lapses shouldn’t exist, everyone should follow the same procedure,” he said, despite his earlier justifications over the search on Andrea’s phone. “We can’t have different laws for different people.”

The flip side: However, the fact remains that crime is increasingly enabled in some parts by technology—and the police will require more exploratory access to devices to solve these cases. Warrants may not be able to fully capture this reality: that the police may not always know what they’re looking for.

“The general principle that is being driven through is that you obtain a warrant, but you must then, in that warrant, detail the information you’re looking for,” Nikhil Mehra, an independent criminal lawyer explained. “The counter from the police is that the warrant has to be very broadly tailored. It can say, for example, we require any material related to X event or Y event, as we know it so far, or any other person who may be found to be connected. This is an unnatural restriction on their powers because the purpose of investigation is to discover things you do not know. Not merely to affirm things that you may know.”

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As a result of this procedural ambiguity, multiple cases on these issues have emerged over the past few years, with courts often having to remind the police that they cannot illegitimately seize devices, keep them forever, or compel the accused to unlock them. “Today, it’s the Wild West on this issue,” Mehra told me. “These judgments I’m telling you about, these are the ones that are roping them [the state] in”.

Note: Aside from the senior cybercrime official from Bengaluru, MediaNama received no response from the multiple police officers it reached out to for this piece. This story will be updated with their comments if and when they respond.

Read more

  • How India’s Police Is Using Metadata
  • How And Why Law Enforcement Agencies In India Are Using Phone-Cracking Tools
  • How The Three Bills Overhauling India’s Criminal Law Impact The Digital Ecosystem

In the thick of it: The rights people currently have, and the things they can do, once a device is seized

Back at the thana in Bengaluru, the lone female police officer of the four or five male officers investigating the group was seated in the station’s reception area, away from the search. Andrea wondered what might have happened if the other male friends hadn’t been there—perhaps he could have taken her information and put it into his own phone.

“I understood that they were doing their job,” Andrea said. “They were looking for something, but it felt a little cheap, because I knew that whatever he’s searching for is not there on my phone. I told him, I’ve just ‘smoked pot’ at this party. I’ve not done anything else, and whoever you’re looking for, I can’t give information about them to you because I was new to the city, it was my first year in Bengaluru.”

I ask her if she ever thought of resisting, of simply not sharing the password. “I was too scared,” Andrea said, with a small smile. “The guy whose party it was, he was at the station too. His hands were tied and he had beating marks on his legs. When he saw us, he tried to stick up for us, telling the cops that we hadn’t done anything [that is, hard drugs] at his party, that we weren’t involved. While he said it, the cops hit him to shut him up.”

After a while, the group of friends was asked to leave the room while the police went through the phones. “I don’t really know what exactly they were going through while they were on my phone there,” Andrea said. “I was more worried about them seeing another person’s stuff, like a picture of my debit card, or some personal information of my parents, or passwords, or my personal photos. That made me a little uncomfortable.”

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***

Ways to retrieve a seized device: Andrea’s experience indicates that these ‘innocuous’ privacy violations while checking devices could easily spiral into a more sinister type of information collection that may be used against her.

“The real problem is that when you give this information, you don’t know what happens to it,” Alok Prasanna Kumar said. “You don’t know how safe it is in police hands. You don’t know what might be leaked to the media. You don’t know if some totally unrelated third party is going to be affected. You don’t know if your business is going to be affected, your profession is going to be affected. Actually, that’s just the information on the device itself. beyond that, You still need it for your day-to-day existence and your day-to-day carrying out of your life.”

The senior cybercrime official told me how this process of seizure and return usually works. “We seize the devices on arrest,” they said. “We then take permission from the court to examine them, and only with the court’s order start that process. A mirror image of the device is created to examine it. We keep the device with us. If someone wants it returned, or access, they have to move the court and get an order for that.”

In other cases, citizens can approach the courts requesting for their devices to be returned, or access to cloned copies of the data required for the investigation. For example, in 2018, a Delhi court allowed sexual harassment-accused R.K. Pachauri, the former chair of The Energy and Resources Institute, access to cloned copies of digital devices seized during the investigation.

Of course, this access may also depend on the facts of the case, and the extent of the crime.

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Back in 2019, the Supreme Court only allowed the Malayalam actor Dileep access to inspect the contents of a memory card containing footage of his alleged kidnapping and assault of a woman. Usually, the accused should have access to the card itself (and any other evidence produced by the prosecution) to prepare themselves for trial. However, the top court held that in this case, Dileep’s right to a fair trial has to be balanced against the survivor’s privacy rights. “It is imperative to adopt an approach, which would balance both the rights,” the now-retired Justice A.M. Khanwilkar opined at the time. The court also offered the actor the option of determining the credibility of the memory card using an independent IT expert and forensic lab.

How long does requesting access to devices take?: For those reading this story concerned that this process may take years to fulfil (given the leisurely pace of India’s judiciary) Mehra clarified that procuring such an order for device retrieval is a “month-and-a-half long process at the very worst. You simply have to say there’s a seizure memo, in which the police will have to admit that your phone has been taken—if they don’t admit that, then they can’t use evidence from that phone. You can request that because your phone contains your entire life, and given this, that their investigation should be contained to the issues relevant to the FIR. You can request that they make a copy [of the data], and that the rest be returned to you. That is a fairly short order [for the courts].”

However, even this process may be delayed, depending on the severity of the allegations. Those booked under India’s anti-terror laws in the controversial Bhima Koregaon case alleged last year that the National Investigation Agency delayed providing access to cloned copies of the digital evidence recovered from them. The requests for access were reportedly filed four years ago. In the same breath, India’s courts have also provided relief in cases where devices were held indefinitely by the police. In 2023, a Delhi court ordered the release of seized electronic devices of The Wire‘s editorial team. The court added that they can’t be held based on the speculation that an uncertain discovery in the case may take place in the future, especially given that the investigating agency already had access to cloned copies.

“Now, a lot of these provisions [on returning an investigation’s documents under India’s criminal procedure codes] were inserted in the context of when the court took away your buffaloes, or car, or truck, or lorry,” Alok Prasanna Kumar added drily. “But they require rethinking in the context of personal devices, because there is a level of urgency, importance, and timeliness about them.”

Does refusing to handover a device’s password protect your rights?: Speaking to MediaNama last year following raids the Delhi Police’s seizure of multiple devices from Newsclick journalists, allegedly without a warrant, last year, the Internet Freedom Foundation’s Radhika Roy suggested that “if someone does have access to a phone, they have access to our communications, including information that may be incriminating. So access to a phone violates these rights, specifically if this access is taken without due procedure of law.”

To that end, the Indian constitution empowers the right against self-incrimination, which could be a legitimate ground to refuse handing over a device or its password. However, the experts we spoke to remained unconvinced about my proposition.

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“The right against self-incrimination in India over a period of time has basically been interpreted to mean you cannot be compelled to be a witness against yourself in court,” Alok Prasanna Kumar argued. “It is not as if the police cannot come and ask you questions, take information from you, collect evidence about you. The only constitutional protection is that I can’t be forced to come to court and say, ‘yes, I committed this crime’.” Mehra agreed, bluntly adding that “self-incrimination is the wrong ground [to challenge search and seizures with]. The ground here is privacy.”

India’s courts have diverging views based on the facts of the case. For example, in 2022, a Delhi district court ruled that the accused in a Central Bureau of India investigation cannot be compelled to provide the passwords for any seized devices. Obtaining information from the device without their consent would additionally violate their rights against self-incrimination.

The consequences of resisting sharing information or devices: Regardless of these differences in opinion, refusing to not hand over the device could lead to arrest, as this would count as not cooperating with the investigation, Mehra explained. Roy further clarified that in “search and seizure cases, we have the right to ask the police for the order authorising them to do so. The order should record where the act will be done and for what reason. You can refuse the act if they don’t have the order. But, if they have an order, you have to comply.”

Alok Prasanna Kumar added that a person can refuse to hand over a password for a device. The police might ask the court to direct them to do so—but if they don’t, once again, then the court may draw an adverse conclusion against them. “It can be drawn against them, saying you have something to hide, or you’re refusing to give out this evidence, or you’re refusing to cooperate with the police,” he explained. “The evidence law allows the court to draw an adverse inference against me if I don’t produce the material which I’m in possession of, which I’m in control of. And that’s true for both civil and criminal cases…You have a full right to refuse. But, it doesn’t mean that there are no consequences to that refusal.”

At a macro level, illegal search and seizures pose existential questions for fundamental rights, and criminal procedure in India: The petitioners challenging the police’s search and seizure practices at the Supreme Court (and others) argue that they violate various fundamental rights—like the right to privacy.

These privacy violations can hurt some groups of Indians more than others—particularly journalists. Unlike doctors or lawyers, journalists do not have confidentiality privileges under law, which affects their ability to work with integrity down the line.

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“Even though journalists don’t have a specific [confidentiality] privilege, you have information with you which might be sensitive in some way,” Alok Prasanna Kumar explained. “When I say sensitive, I mean you may have gone and interviewed somebody who did not want to reveal their name for fear of retribution. It’s a grey area, because a lot of the conversation in India assumes that there is a special freedom of the press. There isn’t, that’s only in the US, where the US Constitution specifically guarantees it. In India, everybody accepts that the press plays an important role, but there are no additional protections available which only the press enjoys to the exclusion of everyone else. This is why that petition [by the media professionals on search and seizure] is pending in the Supreme Court and it’s being considered.”

What happens when illegally obtained information becomes inadmissible?: However, while mandating warrants during investigations will inevitably protect citizen’s privacy, it will also make investigations a little more honest, which has consequences of its own. Take this scenario—suppose you’re empowered by a warrant to examine a phone’s call records in a terror financing case. In the process of looking at the device, you come across inflammatory tweets and messages on the device that could be prosecuted under sections of India’s criminal laws. Can you open a case, or would that be impermissible, as this evidence was illegally gathered outside of the warrant?

Mehra said that this scenario strikes at the heart of evidence gathering norms in India. “We’ve never had the doctrine of fruits of the poisonous tree,” he explained. “In the United States’ and in the United Kingdom’s legal frameworks, this doctrine means that any evidence which is collected in an illegal manner is suspect and cannot be used in court. In India, if there is no material violation of your rights in the collection of that evidence or in the making of the arrest, or the collection of a material on making of the arrest, then an ipso facto or a post facto validation [of the evidence] will suffice.”

Writing for The Wire, lawyer Sarim Naved argued that the absence of this doctrine is what empowers wholescale seizures of evidence in India: “apart from individuals, this is a matter of concern for businesses with proprietary information―their systems can be seized by the local police or agencies that regularly access all data on devices, regardless of what the investigation is about. The investigation may be about non-supply of goods or services, but the entire hard drives and phones of key personnel are routinely seized. No company or individual ought to be subjected to such invasive state action.”

Mehra added that this debate around the admissibility of electronic evidence when obtained illegally has begun to emerge in divorce law as well, raising critical questions for those being prosecuted. For example, take the case of a person who has recorded a conversation of their spouse without their knowledge, which may help disprove claims of domestic abuse. Courts have recently held that this evidence cannot be used, as it constitutes a privacy violation.

“The counter question is, if I can’t use that evidence, how am I to disprove [allegations against me]?” Mehra argued. “You [as a court] are anyway lending more weight to the voice of the complainant in these cases. Overall, I think the questions that you are asking me about reigning in the powers of the police during search and seizures are the secondary questions. They lie downstream from the primary issue of will we basically go to a regime of fruits of the poisonous tree? And to what degree?”

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The Road Ahead: Why Clarity on Search and Seizure Practices Helps Both Citizens and the Police

Back in Bengaluru, Andrea’s group was eventually allowed to leave the thana at night, some seven hours later. While nothing substantial emerged from the phone search, a drug test showed that they had consumed marijuana, so they were let off with a fine. Andrea didn’t want to go home that late, so she went to a friend’s house instead, who incidentally also dabbles in recreational marijuana consumption.

“While we were there, and I was talking about this incident, I became apprehensive,” Andrea said, her voice lowering a little while telling me this part of the story. “What if they put something in my phone [during the closed-door examination] so that they can listen to me? We went to bed shortly after that, but for a very long time, I was awake thinking, what if they’ve tapped my phone? What if they know I smoked a joint? Every time I saw headlights, I thought, ‘oh my God, is that a police car?’. I switched off my phone because in case they did listen to me, and now they wanted to come catch me, let me at least not tell them where I was.”

Andrea’s phone was brand new at the time, so the thought of swapping it for a different one was unthinkable. But, she hasn’t seen any suspicious activity on it since the investigation. She uses the same one today. Nevertheless, I asked her what could have been done differently during the investigation to make her feel more assured that the police were doing their job correctly. “There should be a warrant to check my personal devices, I think,” Andrea said. “Not just as a woman, but as a person too. It would have just felt nice to know that this is something that’s regulated, something that’s allowed, so it’s not that the police are trying to f*** with me and take advantage of me. I feel like without a warrant, they have some power to abuse a person.”

***

India’s new criminal laws may complicate the future: The recently (and speedily) passed Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 will replace the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), in a government attempt to develop future-forward criminal laws.

An example of this—Section 94 explicitly allows for the summoning of digital evidence, which includes “any electronic communication such as messages, call recordings, and emails as well as electronic communication devices such as mobile phones, laptops, cameras, and any other electronic device that may be specified by the government through notification in the future”. Section 185 also empowers the police officer to search for anything without a written order, as long as they have “reasonable grounds” to believe that it cannot be otherwise procured without undue delays.

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Although seizures of devices have anyway happened under Section 91 of the CrPC, Internet Freedom Foundation’s Radhika Roy told us at the time that the new law’s “legal backing will certainly provide a heightened impetus to law enforcement agencies to demand the production of communication devices. This can have far-reaching consequences as it may lead to increasing instances of violation of our right to privacy because we increasingly rely upon our communication devices, such as mobile phones, for our functioning”.

What’s more, the original bill mandated that “where an electronic or digital record is produced from proper custody, such electronic and digital record is primary evidence unless disputed”. A joint parliamentary committee in charge of reviewing the bill’s deficiencies recommended that the bill additionally mandate “that all electronic and digital records acquired as evidence during the course of investigation are securely handled and processed through the proper chain of custody”, especially given that digital evidence can be prone to tampering. From our reading of the law that was passed, a clear mandate on chain of custody hasn’t been introduced either.

Combined together, these concerns may only worsen the opacity of search and seizure practices. However, the senior cybercrime police inspector didn’t seem to think so. He shook his head while telling me that there “are no changes really with the new laws”. However, they do make it easier to justify the collection of digital evidence in investigations.

Nevertheless, current procedural practices may be far from desirable, as alleged in high stakes cases where the accused face years of jail time. Take the case of the Bhima Koregaon investigation, mentioned earlier. Lawyers appearing for the terror-accused argued last year that the devices hadn’t been secured properly upon seizure by the Pune Police. India’s IT laws mandate that the device’s hash value should be calculated upon seizure—the police allegedly didn’t do this, leaving the possibility of the devices being tampered with. A forensic lab report on the devices allegedly also remained silent on whether the evidence had been tampered with.

How the Supreme Court can balance competing interests—a wishlist of ideas to incorporate in the guidelines: Clearly, people need to be protected against the increasing excesses of the state. At the same time, these devices, which record the minutest intricacies of our private lives, will increasingly become the tools that the police will rely on to solve crimes.

The petitioners challenging the police’s search and seizure practices at the Supreme Court have a solution on redressing this—the Court should issue guidelines on the best practices investigating agencies should be following.

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The Bench presiding over the case seemed inclined to agree, with the now-retired Justice S.K. Kaul remarking “it’s a serious matter. These are media professionals who will have their own sources and other things [on their devices]. There must be some guidelines. If you take everything away, there’s a problem.” The senior cybercrime inspector agrees, saying that if the Supreme Court issues the guidelines, then all units should follow them.

Last November, the academics challenging search and seizures gave the top court an inkling of the kinds of measures they’d like to see in place, when they submitted draft interim guidelines that could be issued as directives by the court. Described by The Wire as “a big leap in establishing procedures around what has been arbitrary so far”, the draft guidelines suggest that devices must only be seized if authorised by a judicial warrant clearly specify the information sought. Among other things, they add that investigating agencies should be barred from accessing “irrelevant, privileged, or personal material” stored on the devices. The Indian government subsequently informed the court that it would come up with new guidelines, and that it would strictly abide by the 2020 CBI Manual’s search and seizure provisions in the interim period.

Nevertheless, if framed holistically, the guidelines can help clarify how to properly examine devices in a privacy-respecting way, where access to information is clearly defined.

​​For example, one approach is that the guidelines narrowly tailor the kind of information that can be collected. “They could mandate that you have to obtain a warrant for an electronic device, because a warrant is the only document by which you can have a record of the nature of material that the police require,” Mehra explained. “That is the only way to narrow them down in scope.” If they need more information beyond this scope, then they should get a second warrant requesting access to information beyond what they already have. “Once they have received the warrant, they would have to specify which files they have accessed and which files they are using.”

I asked Alok Prasanna Kumar if India’s data protection law—which seemingly protects digital privacy—has any bearing on how devices are seized, and information is examined. “The general principle is that so long as you are saying that I’m investigating an offence in accordance with another law, most of this [data protection law] won’t apply at all,” he explained, adding that the rules executing the law are yet to be published. However, he added that the principles embedded in the law can be used to help frame the guidelines—like ensuring there’s a legal justification for collecting the data, or setting limits on the information the police can collect from a phone.

Another issue they could touch upon is ensuring the safety of the device owner, based on their gender identity.

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“Given that I’m a girl, I would have appreciated a heads-up before they opened my gallery,” Andrea said. “Or, they could have gotten a female cop to examine my phone. You wouldn’t open a woman’s bag, or enter a woman’s house if you didn’t have a female cop with you. So, why would you check my phone without one?” However, the senior police official had a different take. “If a woman is brought into the station, there will always be a woman officer with them,” they said. “But our cybercrime experts may often be men. We can’t always expect a woman to inspect these devices.” 

Ultimately, guidelines may also help the police improve the quality of investigations and evidence collected.

“See, the most important thing [for the police] is to be able to produce this [collected information] as evidence in court [in a genuine investigation],” said Alok Prasanna Kumar. “A lot of times you will find that cases fall apart because the chain of evidence is not clear. When did you collect this information from this person’s phone? How did you store this information? How did you make sure this information was not tampered with during the time of investigation till you produce it in court? And all of those are important factors also [and they remain unanswered]. So in that way, these guidelines will guide the police as to what information to take and not to take. They will actually make the process of the investigating officer much easier.”

The complications of compliance: However, it remains unclear if simply providing legal clarity can help reduce misdemeanours—even if the directions come from the Supreme Court, they have to be followed by thousands of police officers, spread across the country’s many corners. Who can forget the case of Shreya Singhal—or, when in 2015, the top court struck down Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000, for being unconstitutional. Since then, the court has spent much judicial time reminding police forces across the country that they cannot in fact file FIRs under a dead provision. At least 1,307 “zombie” FIRs have been filed under Section 66A till date.

Some also argue that state governments aren’t able to allocate bigger budgets to support the country’s police forces, with obvious consequences on the quality of policing.

“For me, it’s literally a question of your means,” Mehra argued. “90% of your police force across the country, forget that, I’d say even higher percentage, does not have the tools to perfectly gather evidence. So, until your policing standards are raised, it’s very difficult to bring in these standards. Alternatively, you could look at it the other way, which is once you bring in the standards, the state is compelled to raise the policing standards overall. But today, as things stand [investigations wise], a lot of people would be getting off [if you forced such high standards on the police]. You have even much higher acquittal rates, if we were to say that you can’t acquire evidence through X or Y route.”

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As we move forward into an uncertain policing future, the question remains—should citizens have to pay the price for these infrastructural shortcomings?

* Name changed to protect identity.

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