'Privacy Fundamental Right of Citizens': Hyderabad Police Under Fire for Checking Commuters' WhatsApp Chats on Drugs

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'Privacy Fundamental Right of Citizens’: Hyderabad Police Under Fire for Checking Commuters' WhatsApp Chats on Drugs
© Provided by News18 ‘Privacy Fundamental Right of Citizens’: Hyderabad Police Under Fire for Checking Commuters’ WhatsApp Chats on Drugs

The Hyderabad Police’s anti-drug drive in the city came under fire after videos of policemen stopping commuters arbitrarily and asking them for their mobile phones drew massive backlash on social media. It has been alleged that the police officials checked WhatsApp chats of the commuters and searched for keywords such as ‘ganja’ (weed), ‘drugs’ and ‘cocaine’ in the search box.

CNN-News18 accessed one such video from Old city area of Hyderabad where the excise department and west zone police officials were captured on camera checking mobile phones of commuters parked for random checks. Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar said the searches were done according to the established protocol.

“Privacy is the most important fundamental right of common citizens but when it comes to criminals, rowdiesheeters both physical and technical evidences are collected according to the established procedure. Action needs to be taken at crime scenes,” Anjani Kumar said.

Kumar also pointed out that stringent searches are being conducted since the last one month.

Refuting claims of private chats of individuals being searched for the word “drugs”, South Zone DCP Gajarao Bhupal told CNN-News18 that according to protocol, a phone is checked only when there is a complaint of theft in a particular area. “These are not routine searches. Phones would be checked only when there is a complaint of phone snatching. It has got nothing to do with drug raids. So far, there has been no official complaints against police officials snooping into private chats of individuals. We neither snatched phones nor took them without consent. There is no question of violation of privacy.”

He further said there are no instructions from top officials to check WhatsApp chats with specific keywords and that these raids were conducted by excise officials.

In cases where a suspect refuses to share his phone with the police for details then “will be forced to take legal remedies”, the DCP added.

Several activists have criticised the Hyderabad Police calling the raids “ridiculous, illegal and gross violation of human rights”.

New policing practices alert: stop and search phone chats by the @hydcitypolice. Police are searching phone chats for words like ganja. Wait until they replace words with NRC, Modi or BJP. pic.twitter.com/1lNjvKRIgk

— Srinivas Kodali (@digitaldutta) October 27, 2021

Legal experts have also questioned the motive of such crackdowns. High Court lawyer Karam Komireddy said, “The Supreme Court has ruled that right to privacy is a fundamental right and is an intrinsic part of the right to personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. The action of Telangana police in checking phones amounts to an invasion of one’s privacy and is therefore unconstitutional.”

This is not the first time that the Hyderabad Police has drawn the wrath of citizens over such incidents. In 2017, the infamous Chabutra raids in which “vagabonds loitering on the streets at night” were subjected to fingerprint analysis to check if they had any criminal cases lodged against them.

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