Do you have to give the police your phone passcode?

Unless you are handed a written notice under section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, or issued with a court order, you are under no requirement to provide the police with the passcode to your phone, or any other device. (See “Can the police unlock your phone?”)

Section 49 notices are specific legal instruments that compel individuals to disclose encryption keys or passcodes. These notices must be issued in writing and include detailed information such as the description of the protected information, the reasons for the notice, the authority of the issuer, the compliance deadline, and the required disclosure format. Failure to comply with such a notice can result in criminal charges under Section 53 of the same Act.

Outside of these circumstances, you are under no general obligation to surrender your passcodes to the police. Refusing to provide your passcode in the absence of a Section 49 notice or court order does not constitute an offence and is not considered obstruction or perverting the course of justice.

Moreover, accessing your phone without your consent or appropriate legal authority may breach your privacy rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), specifically Article 8, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life. Unauthorized access could also potentially violate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018, which require data processing to be lawful, fair, and proportionate.

It is also important to be aware of your rights during interactions with the police. You should always ask the officer to clarify the legal basis for their request and to provide you with the necessary documentation if they are invoking statutory powers. If you feel your rights have been infringed, you should consider making a complaint or bringing a legal action against the police.