We spoke with our Head of Crime, Rachel Fletcher, what happens if the police take your phone for evidence.
If you are suspected or accused of a crime that requires access to personal or private information, the police have a right to seize your mobile phone for evidence.
The police have a legal duty to only follow up with any reasonable lines of enquiry, so as to avoid unnecessary intrusion of privacy. It is their responsibility to gather all evidence relevant to a case in order to investigate.
Mobile phones and other devices such as laptops, tablets and smartwatches can provide important information to assist in their investigation. They are only required to seek out ‘relevant’ information, which is measured in its importance in relation to the case.
It is important to understand that the police can take both a suspect’s and victim’s phone for evidence to build a full picture of the situation.
The police took my phone for evidence, what are they looking at?
They may look at messages, photographs, emails and social media accounts that are available on the device. This can depend on the type of accusation. If they are signposted to a certain area of the phone, or if you know where on the device important information is, they can go directly to it.
The police seized my phone, do I have to give them my password?
Ordinarily, the police will request the password in the PACE interview at the police station. There is, however, no legal obligation on you to provide it to them.
I have refused to provide the police with my phone password. What will they do?
The police can apply to the court for an order under section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA). They will have to show that disclosure is necessary in preventing or detecting crime and the request is proportionate. This order will require you to disclose the requested information.
Do I have to comply?
No, however it is a criminal offence to not comply with the terms of the section 49 notice. It is punishable with imprisonment of up to 2 years, or up to 5 years in cases involving national security or child indecency.
What if I don’t know the password for the phone?
It is a defence for a person to show that they are not in possession of the password.
Should I disclose a phone password to the police?
Disclosure of a password can be a difficult decision for suspects. They might be under investigation for a serious offence, where the punishment would exceed that available for not complying with the notice requirements.
Therefore, they may choose not to assist the police to secure evidence which could result in a serious offence being brought against them.
Can police search your phone without knowing passwords?
Often, the police can override password protection. It is, however a difficult decision and the implications for the suspect must be carefully considered based on the circumstances of each case.
How long can police keep your phone for evidence?
There are three different levels of extraction which relate to the depth of the investigation. The level of extraction will determine how long the police keep your phone for evidence. The investigating officer should explain how long this is likely to be in your case.
Contact a Criminal Law Solicitor
Our Crime team are well-versed in all aspects of criminal defence and investigations. We would advise that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity that you think, or are notified, that you are under investigation.
If you have any queries, either about the police taking your phone for investigation or any other crime-related enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us. Call us on 0161 969 3131 or leave your details below and the team will give you a call or email back.