The Police are often very keen to see what is on a person’s mobile phone but the question is, do you need to give them access to contents by giving them your mobile phone’s pin number.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) creates a criminal offence for you not to comply with a request that has been given by a person with the correct permission. An officer can seek permission from a District Judge by explaining what they think is on the phone and why it is needed for the detection of crime. If the Judge grants permission they will issue a RIPA Notice signed by the Judge.
Sometimes the police will give you a piece of paper that looks like a RIPA notice but in fact it is what the police refer to as a Warning. This could be warning you they have the ability to apply for a Notice.
How can you tell the difference between a Warning and a Notice?
It may be very difficult to tell the difference between a properly issued Notice and a Warning.
A completed notice states that there is a power of arrest if it is not complied with and a refusal can result in a conviction. Sentences for these offences can be up to two years in prison. It should be authorised by someone with sufficient seniority such as a District Judge. A properly completed Notice will allow a reasonable amount of time to comply with the request and contain a unique reference number that can be used to check its authenticity. It should recommend that you can obtain legal advice.
Is it always a criminal offence to fail to disclose the mobile phone pin number?
If a Notice is properly served then it may still be defence to show that you do not have the pin number at the point that the Notice is given. If you have forgotten your pin number the police may prosecute you if they do not believe you. At court, the Crown will try to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you knowingly failed to comply with their request. There will be an assumption that if you ever had the pin you will continue to do so but you can give evidence as to why this may not be the case.
Will the police be able to access the information?
The police may be able to access the information from your phone whether you give them the pin number or not. Information can be obtained from the phone company or from downloading information from the phone itself.
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