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Monday, June 27, 2022
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Can the police look through your phone? Here’s what you should do if you encountered one

Some of us may have experienced being pulled over by the police for questioning. This can be quite intimidating as not all of us are mentally ready for such an incident.

Recently, a Twitter user @SimpletonED shared his experience of being allegedly intimidated by the police. The user shared that the police officer wanted to “check” his phone and he eventually was asked to follow them to the police station for further questioning.

Hence, you may have wonder if police officers have the authority to look through a citizen’s phone.

In a Twitter thread, the user said that a police officer came up to him at an eatery to ask for his ID and his mobile phone. Feeling sceptical about this, he asked why he should hand over his phone to them, to which the police officer answered that he had the “right to check” and insisted that the user hold the phone while the police officer would “oversee”.

“He asked to swipe through left and right, then to go to WhatsApp. Immediately after I opened the app, the police officer kept pressing to search. Quickly, he pressed the word ‘mkt’.”

“I was upset because he was moving fast, and kept my phone… What happens next should scare you, Malaysians. The police officer claimed he “saw” the word ‘mkt’ used in the WhatsApp message and told me to give him the phone. I asked what was wrong there. ‘Mkt’, to me it stands for MARKET,” the user said.

Despite him explaining it to the officers, the officer wasn’t satisfied and asked him to go to the police station with him. The user also claims that the situation escalated from two police officers questioning him to six to eight police officers in total there. He added that the officers tried to intimidate him into following him to the station without stating a valid reason or fault.

The officers then allegedly followed him home and eventually, he was brought to the station and held there for hours.

“My time at the station was filled with just empty chat—about work, family, etc. They even offered Evian water. The officer then asked to ‘see the phone’. “I just want to see, okay?” he said.”

“I insisted indeed he had no right, but I just gave in to not waste my time. It’s been 3 hours!… He took the phone and told the other officers to take it for processing. After that two officers came in, made an empty chat with me, and apologised for the misunderstanding. “It’s a hot day, maybe everything else is also ‘hot’,” he said,” he wrote.

After hours of questioning, the officer finally handed him his phone back. The officer said that there was nothing and he “will do the documentation” so he could go back. “No crime, no offence”.

“This case can happen anywhere, to anyone. Asked to check the phone, then if you don’t share, threaten to take it to the station. The question is, what are the rights as citizens when the police abuse their power, by distorting the law? The police station is not a safe place. Police or Bully?” continued @SimpletonED.

Are the police allowed to check our phones?

In response to the viral tweet, lawyer and politician Syahredzan Johan said that what the police officers allegedly did was a blatant abuse of powers. He also posted a video explaining what the police are and aren’t allowed to do in this situation.

“The police can check our phones. But this is only if they suspect that we have done anything illegal, or if we are being investigated. For example, only if we have been stopped and arrested, then yes, they have the power to access our phones even if it’s password-protected,” Syahredzan said.

However, he said that if you are not being arrested or investigated, the police do not have the right to check your phones. He added that we should know our rights as citizens when faced with police officers.

Meanwhile, he also said that in some instances, it “may be more prudent to just comply” and hand them your phone, as they “may arrest you for ‘obstruction’”. However, he advised that later on, you can consider “suing the authorities if there is no basis”.

What should you do if a police officer asks for your phone?

Syahredzan also shared a video that details what we can do if a police officer asks for our phone. These steps are:

  1. Ask the police for their “kad kuasa”.
  2. Ask nicely, why they want to check your phone, and what is the crime that the police is suspecting you of.
  3. If they insist, just give them your phone. Do not fight, but you can instead make a police report afterwards.

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