Hyderabad Police draw flak for checking commuters’ chats, belongings in search of drug abuse links

On Thursday, a video showing police teams checking young men for possession of drugs went viral on social media.

Published: 29th October 2021 08:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th October 2021 10:06 AM   |  A+A-

Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar addresses a press meet following the seizure of 70 kg of ganja by the Task Force.

Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar addresses a press meet following the seizure of 70 kg of ganja by the Task Force.

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Having chats on “ganja” and “weed” can now land one in a police station.

The Hyderabad City police along with Excise Department officials launched a coercive form of policing, wherein even the WhatsApp chats and messages in an individual’s phone are being checked to purportedly curb drug abuse. 

A police official checks the storage
space of a bike while another
officer checks the messages on 
mobile phone of a biker in
Hyderabad on Thursday

On Thursday, a video showing police teams checking young men for possession of drugs went viral on social media.

In the video, nearly four to five bikers were seen stopped by the police and made to open their storage space and show their belongings.

The police even checked their mobile phones. This trend is mostly witnessed in areas like Mangalhat, Bhoiguda, Dhoolpet and Jumerat Bazar. 

As the video went viral, citizens started expressing their utter shock and dismay over police action.

SQ Masood, a city-based social activist said that this is just a continuation of police’s routine infringement on privacy of slum dwellers and marginalised individuals, and that it would not happen in Banjara Hills or HiTec City where the affluent live.

“A few days ago, during a cordon and search operation in the Falaknuma area, police officers were asking people for details like trade licence of a tailoring shop or a printing press. They even asked why photo on Aadhar card doesn’t have a beard when the card holder has one. This is nothing but excessive policing which is slowly inching towards checking private chats,” he said.

Streets as crime scenes 

However, city-based Data and Privacy Researcher Kodali Srinivas described the development as militarisation of police.

“The Evidence Act Section 65 B clearly states that a panchnama has to be made when taking the phone for evidence. Here no such rule was followed and in the garb of calling it a crime scene search, they made the roads of the city a crime scene and a passerby a criminal, though no laws allow them to do so,” he said. 

Some people were aghast as the police action came a day after the Supreme Court gave an order elaborating on Right to Privacy.

“Some may think that just like parents feel they can check phones of their children, police too can prevent crimes, if the kids voluntarily give their phones for checking. However, there is nothing like “voluntary” in this procedure,” he added.

Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director of SFLC, an organisation working on constitutional rights of citizens in digital space, said: “A mobile phone contains a lot of private information about an individual, including chats, photos and financials. Police cannot gain access to such devices without a proper warrant or order. Asking a person to hand over the devices as part of routine search operations is arbitrary and is in violation of the right to privacy of the individual.”

Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar, however, defended the police methods of investigation.

“In a few cases of sensational crimes where the accused can run away, police can check all items available at the scene of the crime to get clues to the accomplices. At that time, we don’t know who are gang members or accomplices and who are innocent. Items like cellphones and laptops found at the crime scene are digital evidence,” he said and pointed out that on suspicion a police officer can frisk anyone and check digital devices like mobile phones.


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