HC lays down norms for seizure of gadgets

It sets aside trial court’s order of asking accused to cooperate with police to provide passwords

The High Court of Karnataka on Friday laid down detailed guidelines to be followed by the police while handling smartphones, electronic equipments like laptops, computers, etc., and email accounts in the process of search and seizure operations conducted during the investigation of criminal cases.

These guidelines will be in force till the State government comes out with its own guidelines for this purpose, the court said, while noticing that the police had no rules governing this area of investigation.

Justice Suraj Govindaraj delivered the verdict while setting aside an order of a trial court, which had directed one Virendra Khanna, a party organiser and an accused in a drug case registered in 2018, to undergo a polygraph test and to cooperate with the police in the probe by providing biometric pass-code/passwords of his smartphones, and passwords for email accounts.

Forensic examiner

The court also said that the police officer should not use the electronic equipment required to be searched but such gadgets should be handled by a qualified forensic examiner, who should be part of search team.

“In the unlikely event of the examiner not being available, then unplug the computer, pack the computer, and the wires in separate faraday covers after labelling them.”

The investigation team has to take photographs, of places where the gadgets are kept, in such a manner that all the connections of wires including power, network, etc., are captured in such photographs, the court said.

If the computer or laptop is in the power-off mode, the same should not be powered on; and if the computer is powered on and the screen is blank, the mouse could be moved, and as and when the image appears on the screen, the photograph of the screen should be taken.

Mobile phones

In case of mobile phones, the court said that police should prevent the device from communicating to its network and receiving any wireless communication either through wi-fi or mobile data by packing the same in a faraday bags to block signals.

On the trial court’s order of directing Khanna to cooperate with police to provide password to gadgets and email, the High Court said that it is upto the accused to provide the same and he cannot be compelled.

However, the police can use other methods as per the law to gain access to the materials.

The court also said that the trial court could not have ordered his polygraph test without an express written consent as mere silence of the accused on polygraph test cannot be construed as consent under the law.

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