The Karnataka High Court on Friday laid down detailed guidelines for police to follow while handling smartphones, electronic gadgets like laptops and computers, and e-mail accounts during search and seizure operations conducted as part of investigations in criminal cases. The High Court observed that the state police department does not have any rules pertaining to the same currently, and directed that the guidelines will stay in place until the Karnataka government releases its own set of rules.
Justice Suraj Govindraj delivered the verdict while hearing a petition filed by Viren Khanna, a party organiser who was accused in a drug case registered in 2018, who was ordered by a trial court to undergo a polygraph test. He was also ordered to cooperate with the police in the probe by providing biometric passwords of his smartphone as well as passwords for his email accounts.
The guidelines stress that a qualified forensic expert must accompany the search team, in order to ensure that a scientific process is followed. Among other instructions, they also state that in the event of the investigating officer finding a personal laptop or computer on the premises, they must not use it or attempt to search it for evidence. The court also mentioned that photo evidence of the placement of the gadget should be collected by the investigation team which should include minute details such as the connections of wires including power and network, as well as the placement of the gadget.
#Breaking: Karnataka HC issues a slew of directions to be followed during a seizure on electronic devices. Says, among other things, that search team must be accompanied by a qualified forensic examiner. Reiterates no polygraphy test without consent of person on whom it conducted pic.twitter.com/VbQMZftHZl— The Leaflet (@TheLeaflet_in) March 13, 2021
The court also mentioned that if the laptop or computer is powered off, the officer cannot power it on. “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 verdict read.
While handling mobile phones, the court said that the police should prevent the device from communicating to its network and receiving any wireless communication through any source—Wi-Fi or mobile data—and the device should be packed in a faraday bag to block signal.
Referring to the trial court’s order of directing Khanna to cooperate with police to provide the password to gadgets and email, the High Court said that police cannot compel the accused to do so. However, they can use other lawful methods to gain access to the materials.
During the hearing, Justice Govindraj also reiterated that polygraph tests cannot be carried out on a person without their consent.