Court questions police reasoning on relevance of info in phones

Local | 25 Jun 2019 1:27 pm

The Court of Appeal has heard that police officers need to have the power to immediately search and seize a suspect’s phone to ensure that valuable information is not destroyed before police obtain a search warrant, RTHK reports. 
The prosecution also told a three-judge panel that the main purpose of such a provision is to ensure that the information in the phone will not disappear after a suspect's arrest.
These arguments came during the hearing of an appeal that police filed after a lower court ruled in 2017 that officers need a warrant to search a phone of a criminal suspect in a non-emergency situation. 
The case stems from the arrest of a truck driver for the Civil Human Rights Front, who was held for not following police instructions when he was leading the annual July 1 rally in 2014.
Sham Wing-kan later sued the police of searching his phones without authorization. 
Senior Counsel Johnny Mok, arguing for the Department of Justice, said searching phones of the suspects could help officers to identify and find out the whereabouts of possible accomplices. 
He also said a person under arrest is subjected to “a lower expectation of privacy.''
However, the court raised several questions about the proposition. Justice Johnson Lam asked how an officer would know if a particular information is related to the offense until after he went through everything on the phone.
The DOJ lawyer was also asked if police have the power to ask suspects to unlock their phone, he replied: “Not that I know of.”
The judge asked how police can say the phone in question is relevant to their investigation if the police can not compel a suspect to unlock the phone.

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