Courts should establish clear guidelines on seizure of cell phones and laptops by police: Vrinda Grover

Lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover said there was a need for the courts to establish clear guidelines on the seizure of personal electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops by police during a criminal investigation.

Attorney Grover, speaking in an interview with LiveLaw editor Manu Sebastian on the broader significance of the Supreme Court’s order in the Mohammed Zubair case, said the seizure by the police of the accused’s cell phones has become a routine matter now. .

“Today, if you go to an interrogation, the police will tell you to ‘leave your phone’, whether or not the phone has anything to do with the case,” she said.

If the police are to seize the phone, they should specify the purpose for which it is needed and how the electronic evidence relates to the case. Grover, who argued Zubair’s bail request, said that at this age, a person’s smartphone carries them for life. There may be a situation where in a case filed for tweets, the police are investigating your bank accounts after seizing your phone.

At Zubair’s bail hearing, Grover argued that although authorship of the tweets was admitted, police insisted on seizing the personal devices. This can be particularly problematic in the case of journalists, as their personal devices may contain sensitive and confidential information about sources.

She pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court established certain safeguards against arbitrary seizure of electronic devices in the case Riley vs. California State and felt that Indian courts should also set clear guidelines.

“The Court has yet to rule on the law, and therefore the police get away with driving a truck under our right to privacy,” she said.

In the interview, Grover also spoke about the importance of enforcing police accountability in cases of wrongful arrest. She lamented that it was worrying that magistrates were denying bail and remanding defendants in cases brought against people for speaking out against the establishment, without proper application of the judicial spirit. Although the Supreme Court has repeatedly established the principles of bail, at the ground level they do not translate into real relief.

She noted that Zubair’s case sends a powerful message that citizens’ personal liberty and freedom of expression must be protected against abuses of state power.

She also said the police cannot request pre-trial detention simply by saying the accused is not “cooperating” with the investigation; the accused has the right to remain silent under Article 20. The exercise of this right is not “non-cooperation”.

The full interview can be viewed here.