Do the Police have the Powers to Search your Phone

Can The Police search my Phone!

police search, internet safety, cybersecurity
Police in Manchester can search anyone on reasonable grounds however require a warrant to search phones. 

Technically no, not without a search warrant or your permission, which you should be slow to grant. However, things are changing fast. Police Forces worldwide look jealously at their colleagues in Border Control who can request you to hand over your phone and passwords. Several countries, including the UK, Mexico, Ireland and France, propose legislation shortly to grant Police expanded powers of search. 

At the moment, 'reasonable grounds' are all a cop needs to stop and search you, however in most countries they need the relevant documentation (warrants) to search your phone except in the case of 'child sex offences' or 'terrorism' where a phone must be handed over.

Online Safety Speakers. For Schools, Parents & Businesses!

The #1 Best Internet Safety Speakers

All a Police Officer has to do is 'Ask your Permission'

Teenagers are especially vulnerable as they are more likely to succumb to Police charm or lack of and grant access to their phone rather than calling their parents. At 4 am, most teenagers are not thinking straight. Police will quickly search for 'dick pics', details of parties, drug use, location details, sexting, other criminal activity, or something incriminating.

For some strange reason, a lot of teenagers think that as minors the Police can not stop and search them. Ask your teenagers what they think. Can the Police stop and search them? You might be surprised, again, internet safety is all about common sense, including how you use your social media.

  • Full forensic searches can take up to 2 years (the UK average is around 2 weeks)
  • Police will check with Gaming, Social Media portals
  • Police are free to get in touch with your contacts
  • A standard search warrant does not include the right to search phone
  • Expect the Police to request your permission to search your phone
  • They should say 'No' and consult you first.

Part of internet safety is knowing how sensitive details on your phone are, what they reveal about you, and your activities.

  • Can the Police access WhatsApp and Snapchat - Yes with effort.
  • I deleted that years ago. Can it be recovered? - Yes
  • Phone tell cops who your friends are, where you have been, how fast you drive, everything.

I would recommend Internet Safety Talks every time for a parent's talk

Jamie Mcdonald-Brown Twyford C of E High School, London

What young people need to be aware of

  • Your Phone says more about you than anything else
  • Be very careful of naked pics under 16. It is illegal
  • Joking about purchasing drugs online is no Joke 
  • Your Phone will reveal your driving speeds, locations, friends, associates
  • Police will use all of this against you. It's their job.

Schools need to be telling kids, and teenagers the above. Most schools are not well informed on this. Police will take full advantage of sexting images (naked pictures) to pressurise kids and teenagers into making further admissions. Read our online safety article for children about sexting, including teenagers. Help, I've just seen a picture of my child naked on Snapchat.


Right to silence extends to your Phone

When the police caution someone during an arrest with “you do not have to say anything, etc. this protects you from having to answer questions. These rights mean you do not have to reveal passwords to your phone or social media, except where the 'terrorist activity' or 'sexual offences' against children are suspected.

Things are changing fast. Many people feel this is a blanket cover protecting phones from being accessed. It is not. Police Forces everywhere are getting better at persuading people to reveal passwords voluntarily. Remember, if using WhatsApp, Snapchat police can seek evidence from the social media platform.

In the UK, for example, serving someone an S49 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 200 (S49 RIPA Notice), demands all electronic details on presentation. Law carries a mandatory prison term of 2-5 years, again national security, cybersecurity and child indecency.

Get a Lawyer.

It is clear that if you are able to afford a lawyer, get legal representation before granting anyone access to your phone. These searches are called digital strip searches. In Ireland, Greece, and Portugal, it can take up to 2 years for a full search to be completed.


If your child is under 18 and is involved in an incident with the police, it will be you, the parent, or the registered guardian police will call to see.

Articles of Interest

Articles, Links & Connections from the Internet Safety Talks site you might find interesting

  1. What is Sexting
  2. Holly Russell's Suicide prompted UK Govt to take action against Instagram
  3. Help, I just saw a naked picture of my teen on her phone
  4. Teenagers need a good Online Reputation 
  5. Can the Police search your Phone?


Got something to say? Join the discussion »

Leave a Reply

 [Quick Submit with Ctrl+Enter]

Remember my details
Notify me of followup comments via e-mail

Subscribe For Free

Get the latest updates in your email box automatically.