A recent Twitter thread posted on 22 May went viral containing a Malaysian user’s experience with alleged intimidation by police. The Twitter user said that a police officer wanted to “check” his phone, and eventually the user was asked to follow them to the police station. But are police officers allowed to look through a citizen’s phone? Here’s what you can do if you are faced with the same experience.
What was the viral Twitter thread?
Twitter user @SimpletonED shared his story, claiming that a police offer came up to him at an eatery to ask for his ID as well as his mobile phone. He said that the officer said that he had the “right to check”, so the Twitter user insisted that he would hold the phone while the police officer would “oversee”.
“He asked to swipe through left and right, then to go to WhatsApp. Immediately after I opened the app, the police officer kept pressing tosearch. Quickly, he pressed the word ‘mkt’. I was upset because he was moving fast, and kept my phone… What happens next should scare you, Malaysians. The police officer claimed he “saw” the word ‘mkt’ used in the WhatsApp message and told me to give him the phone. I asked what was wrong there. ‘Mkt’, to me it stands for MARKET,” tweeted @SimpletonED.
After the Twitter user stood his ground, he said that the officer wasn’t satisfied and asked him to go to the police station with him. The user also claims that it went from two police officers questioning him to six to eight police officers in total there. He claimed that the officers tried to intimidate him into following him to the station without stating a valid reason or fault.
The officers also allegedly followed him home. Eventually, he was brought to the station, and entered the officer’s office—not an intimidation room—and was held there for hours.
“My time at the station was filled with just empty chat—about work, family, etc. They even offered Evian water. The officer then asked to ‘see the phone’. “I just want to see, okay?” he said. I insisted indeed he had no right, but I just gave in to not waste my time. It’s been 3 hours!… He took the phone, and told the other officers to take it for processing. After that two officers came in, made empty chat with me, and apologised for the misunderstanding. “It’s a hot day, maybe everything else is also ‘hot’,” he said,” tweeted @SimpletonED.
After several hours, the officer handed him his phone back. The Twitter user said that the officer said that there was nothing and that he “will do the documentation” so he could go back. “No crime, no offense”.
“This case can happen anywhere, to anyone. Asked to check the phone, then if you don’t share, threaten to take it to the station. The question is, what are the rights as citizens when the police abuse their power, by distorting the law? The police station is not a safe place. Police or Bully?” continued @SimpletonED.
Can the police check our phone?
Lawyer and politician Syahredzan Johan responded to the viral tweet and noted that what the police officers allegedly did “is a blatant abuse of police powers”. Separately, he also posted a video online regarding what the police are and aren’t allowed to do in this situation.
“The police, in fact, can check our phones. But this is only if they suspect that we have done anything illegal, or if we are being investigated. For example, only if we have been stopped and arrested, then yes, they have the power to access our phones even if it’s password-protected,” said Syahredzan.
However, Syahredzan advised that if you have not been arrested or investigated, police officers do not have the right to check your phones. He added that we should know our rights as citizens when faced with police officers.
Syahredzan also tweeted that in some instances, it “may be more prudent to just comply” and hand them your phone, as they “may arrest you for ‘obstruction’”. But he advised that later on, you can consider “suing the authorities if there is no basis”.
What do we do if a police offer asks for our phone?
Syahredzan also posted a video detailing what we can do if a police officer asks for our phone. He asks citizens to follow these steps:
- Ask the police for their “kad kuasa”
- Ask nicely, why they want to check your phone, and what is the crime that the police is suspecting you of
- If they insist, just give them your phone. Do not fight, but you can instead make a police report afterwards
“…you’d be surprised how many officers think they have the power to randomly spot check people’s phones, and tell you that they do it because ‘nak check je’,” tweeted Syahredzan.
We’ve previously also wrote about what if we “forgot our password” to our phone if the police officers want to check our devices. It was after veteran radio personality Patrick Teoh was arrested over an alleged Facebook insult against the Johor royalty. The police accused Teoh of claiming to have forgotten his email password, which they cited as one of the reasons for detaining him for more days.