Fact Check: Did Hyderabad Police Snoop on WhatsApp Chats for Drugs Leads?

29 Oct, 2021 10:55 IST|Sakshi Post
Officials from the Hyderabad police department examine youth's phones to monitor their WhatsApp chats to look for narcotics on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, in the Dhoolpet neighbourhood of the city.

Cops in Hyderabad have been chastised for examining WhatsApp communications during 'drug' raids.

Officials from the Hyderabad police can be seen in a video recorded by Siasat, which has now gone viral, demanding individuals to display their WhatsApp chats to check for narcotics. It has sparked great indignation.

Hyderabad: Cops in the city appear to be taking a page from the Narcotic Control Bureau's book, as they have been observed requesting individuals to show their phones so that they may review WhatsApp chats to determine whether they are using or dealing narcotics.

Siasat published a video clip on Wednesday showing city police officers frisking individuals in the Dhoolpet neighbourhood at random and even requesting them to show their phones so they could read WhatsApp communications. The video quickly went viral on social media, drawing the harsh condemnation of the municipal police. Checking a citizen's smartphone, as some have pointed out, is a breach of the right to privacy, which is one of our fundamental rights.

The Hyderabad police have been cracking down on drug trafficking and have made numerous arrests in the last week. While routine police monitoring to keep an eye on crime is understandable, policemen requesting individuals to display their phones and look through their WhatsApp chats is an infringement of privacy.

According to Srinivas Kodali, an independent data and privacy researcher, the Hyderabad police is breaching citizens' basic rights without reason. "These searches are unconstitutional, and the police in Hyderabad appears to be conducting them with impunity," he told media.

A senior police officer told the media that no such instructions to investigate WhatsApp chats had been made. The official also denied that the same thing was happening. However, Gajarao Bhupal, the deputy commissioner of police for the south zone, was reported in the media as claiming that he is aware of the phone checks. "However, we are not forcing anybody nor are we snatching away their phones to check. People are cooperating and no one is complaining, so I don’t think there is anything illegal."

It should be mentioned that the Supreme Court of India determined in 2017 that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution protects the right to privacy. In such a circumstance, a few attorneys who talked to media on the condition of anonymity indicated that the authorities had no right to demand that someone's WhatsApp messages be checked or read without justification.

"Unless and until they have valid authority, they cannot take anyone’s personal belongings or phones. People might inquire as to what authority they are requesting information from. They can do a normal search, but checking personal chats is snooping in broad daylight," said a lawyer from the Telangana high court.

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has raised concerns about the Hyderabad police examining phones and WhatsApp messages.

According to the IFF, the police activity was "illegal" and "tantamount to a general warrant."

When contacted by the media about the incident, Hyderabad City Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar IPS also spoke about Mobile Phone Checking and its benefits, as well as the importance of frisking and examination of the detainees' effects. He also described a few instances in which suspects were not frisked and the consequences were severe for the officers. He also asked the media to verify the videos' authenticity before releasing them.

Take Down On Drugs

Three people were detained on Thursday by authorities from the Kamatipura police station and a task force team who were found in possession of Nitravet and Alpracard pills. According to a police news release, the accused, Syed Masood, Syed Mohammed, and Arun K were selling the pills without a prescription to "drug-addicted customers" and "needy customers." Medical halls are managed by all three.

The Hyderabad police detained two guys on Wednesday after they were discovered in possession of 26 kg of ganja. In a special operation on October 25, police recorded 13 FIRs and detained 21 people for drug-related offences. Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao's missive to the department on reducing drug trafficking in the state is largely to blame for the special police operation. He announced an "all-out war" on narcotics in a meeting on October 21.

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