Can the police check your Grindr at a roadblock?
We know that our country’s police force are out there trying to protect us, making sure we stay home during this time of a global pandemic. We are very thankful for the work they do. At the same time, over the past week, we have received several reports from people about being harassed by people in authority. For example, there’s this incident shared by a Malaysian model and actress:
On my way back from my dads house I ran into some shady policemen flagging people down, at the intersection between Bangsar and Bukit Damansara. No police car, no barricade, no lights.
Why was I suspicious? No gloves + their masks weren’t on properly.
— YM Raja Lapar ? (@AliciaAmin) March 23, 2020
We also know that impunity is higher during these times of higher state control. By this, we mean that some enforcers probably cannot tell when an exercise of authority crosses the line into abuse of power. And a few might think they can get away with crossing the line, especially with regards to their treatment of people who are already socially vulnerable due to gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, or other statuses.
Here is a report that came to us. Joe (not his real name) informed us that he was stopped by the police at a roadblock on his way home in Petaling Jaya. This happened on the sixth day of the Movement Control Order. One of the officers checked Joe’s phone. When the officer saw that Grindr was installed, he told Joe the app is illegal, and proceeded to read his chats. The officer then forced Joe to admit he is gay and asked him how it feels to suck or get fucked by another guy. Joe felt sexually harassed and intimidated. The officer threatened to handcuff Joe and call his parents. In the end they just asked him for money. Joe said he is poor and they let him off after 30 min of questioning. Joe and his partner are now afraid that if they were to get stopped at another roadblock, they may not be so lucky as to get away with merely a warning to go home the next time.
We have yet another report, this time from a Deaf man. Anthony was in his car in a condo visitor car park. For some reason a police car was allowed to enter the compound. When the police officers saw Anthony in his car, they approached him and asked to check his wallet. Anthony showed them his OKU card. They seemed not to believe he is deaf and kept talking to him through their face masks. They also asked for his phones and started to read his chats and messages. Anthony is deaf but he can speak. So he asked them “sudah?” several times. They ignored him until he asked, “polis boleh baca semua ini ke?” Then they returned the phones and let him go.
We initially shared this article briefly on 27 March, but some people questioned the purpose of the article. We want to clarify that the aim of this article is primarily to empower the LGBTQ+ communities to be aware of our rights and to know what to do.
Some also questioned why the persons in the stories did not report the incidents to the police. The answer is simple: it is not easy being LGBTQ+ persons in Malaysia where the laws and social stigma are discriminatory towards us. If the laws are already not in our favour and we are harassed by the police, it is understandable that many of us will fear being further threatened if we report such cases. Sometimes we are even blamed for the abuses we faced. Dismissing reports of abuse from marginalised communities actually proves our point: it is exactly what it means to be marginalised. This reality contributes to why there are very few reported cases by our community.
At such a time, we hope that the public will be more empathetic and less judgemental. We urge the community to look out for each other, so that we will be stronger in fighting for our rights. Hence, the objective of this article is meant for educating our community in knowing our rights in dealing with the authorities, such as police. Scroll down to read more of your rights and our tips when dealing with the authorities.
👮 Can the police request to check my phone (including other personal belongings)?
The police may stop you anywhere in public, provided they have a valid reason to do so. However, they cannot request to check your phone or personal belongings for NO particular reason. Checking of personal belongings, especially your phone, can only be done in the presence of an officer ranked Inspector and above (Section 17, Malaysian Criminal Procedure Code (CPC)).
The Ministry of Home Affairs explained in their press statement dated 19 November 2019 that the PDRM cannot search/confiscate handphones from the public, unless they’re suspects or involved in ongoing investigations. Specifically, when they are suspected of wrongdoings under the following acts:
- Penal Code (Act 574)
- Section 233 under the Communications and Multimedia Act (Act 588)
- Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15)
- Security Offences (Special Measures) 2012 Act (747)
- Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants 2007 (Act 670)
- Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Act 769).
The acts are for offences related to sexual crimes, communications offences, sedition, human trafficking, and terrorism.
If the officer is conducting an investigation and has reasons to believe that your phone or any materials in your possession is necessary to conduct such investigation, then he MAY conduct the search on your personal belongings when it is practical to do so (Section 116, CPC).
👮 Can the police check my chat history in a dating app?
The answer is generally no. The police can only check your phone if there’s reasonable suspicions that you have committed a crime and/or that you are involved in an ongoing investigation.
For example, a person lodges a police report against you for stealing his money. This allows the police to arrest you and carry out an investigation. But is it necessary to confiscate your phone? If that someone also claimed that you invited him to meet up through Grindr before you stole his money, then yes, there’s a reason for the police to look at your phone to access your Grindr chats.
👮 What if I have nude photos in my phone?
A person can be charged for possession of obscene materials under Section 292 of the Penal Code. Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 can also be cited to charge you for transmitting obscene materials. This question is due to be explored and further elaborated in a future article. For now, we advise you keep your sexy stuff in an encrypted folder on your phone. If you are charged, remember not to plead guilty. You can challenge the arrest on grounds that the arrest and detention violate your privacy.
👮 Is Grindr or any apps related to the LGBTQ+ community illegal in Malaysia?
👮 Is it illegal to be LGBTQ+ in Malaysia?
Some of our laws are gender neutral and criminalise consensual sexual acts for all. For example, the Penal Code criminalises “unnatural sex” i.e. the acts of oral sex, anal sex and gross indecency under Sections 377A, 377B and 377D, but it does not mention homosexuality per se. Meanwhile, Syariah laws are more specific and target consensual sex between men or between women, as well as non-conforming gender expressions and gender identities.
While the laws may not explicitly mention lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender persons, these laws are often used to target LGBTQ+ persons. The fact that such laws exist enables and encourages the authorities, strangers, and even family members, to bully, blackmail, harass, and violate LGBTQ+ persons—because everyone knows that these laws and social stigma force LGBTQ+ persons to stay silent and hidden. This is how perpetrators know they can get away with harming or discriminating agaist the LGBTQ+ persons. Check out this Queer Lapis article LGBTQ Legal Guide: What laws are out to catch you? for a more thorough explanation.
👮 What can I do if I feel my rights are violated?
You can reach out to the Standard Compliance Department (Jabatan Integriti dan Pematuhan Standard or JIPS) via email at email@example.com or call 1800 880 222 for enquiry or file reports of such police wrongdoing.
You could also report it to the nearest police station (or a different station from the one that the offending officer is serving under). Since such cases involve an officer invading your privacy, further questions on your sexuality and safety issues may arise. It is up to you if you want to lodge the complaint via that channel.
You may also file a complaint to our national human rights institution SUHAKAM via their online platform at or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can make a report to them regarding any human rights violations, which includes harassment, intimidation, discrimination, and violence due to your sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, citizenship status, etc. Include these details:
- 👀 when did the incident happen
- 👀 who are the perpetrators, how many were there, were they calm or abusive
- 👀 who was with you
- 👀 what did they do
- 👀 where did the incident take place
- 👀 how long was the ordeal
- 👀 what was the impact
- 👀 what do you want out of this complaint
Another safety precaution, for those using Grindr, is to utilise the Discreet App Icon (DAI), which is a security free feature to all Grindr Users to change the logo of Grindr and rename it as another app.
DON’T PANIC! AND OTHER TIPS FOR DEALING WITH THE POLICE
😽 KEEP a cool and calm demeanour, so that the police do not have any reason to accuse you of being uncooperative and obstructing them from carrying out their duties (it is an offence under Section 186 of the Malaysian Penal Code!). Sometimes it helps to show you have nothing to hide, like turning your car interior light on as you approach the roadblock. But don’t overdo it, because that may get suspicious.
😽 POLITELY but firmly ask the officers:
- to show their “kad kuasa” – police ID before being questioned.
- what is the purpose of the inspection of your phone. (Be sure that there is an officer ranked Inspector or above accompanying them.)
- what crime are they suspecting you of committing and if you are under arrest.
- which Section and Act are such apps illegal, that is if the officers told you that Grindr or similar apps are illegal
- what is the link of having such apps and the purported crime that they are suspecting you of.
😽 IF THEY insist that you give the phone, just comply first and later lodge a report against them.
😽 IF THEY want to see the contents of your bag, tell them that you will empty your bag yourself, if possible. Remove all items one by one, and place them on a surface so that all items can be seen. Give your bag a shake to show that nothing is being hidden. When you remove the items one by one it is also recommended that you mention what it is. For example, when taking out a phone from your pocket, say “Now I’m taking out my phone” or just “Phone, wallet, etc.”
😽 STAND close by and watch what the officer does to your phone or belongings during the search.
😽 NOTE any identifiable information of the police officer(s) including their name, authority card numbers, and car number plates. If you are feeling too overwhelmed to remember these details, just note down where and what time it happened. Each station has a log of officers on duty.
😽 NOTE down all the abusive acts done towards you in order to make a complaint or pursue legal actions later. You could contact human rights groups, the legal aid, or us at email@example.com for help.
😽 DEMAND for your right to call a close contact, a lawyer, an NGO if you’re being arrested. You can seek Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan (YBGK)’s assistance for free legal representation.
Remember, like everyone else, LGBTQ+ people are equal under the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law under Article 8(1) of Federal Constitution. Read more about it in our Queer Lapis article LGBTQ Legal Guide: Does the Constitution Defend Our Rights? We also have the right to be informed of the reasons of arrest and to be legally represented by a lawyer of our choice as stated in Article 5(3) of Federal Constitution.
Sometimes survival necessitates that we learn to adapt to the situation. Assess how great is the risk of actual harm, take note if they are hostile or calm, and adjust accordingly. Try not to escalate the situation by being provocative.
Sometimes, complying with police orders does not mean that you have given up. As long as you know your rights and the legal avenues to fight back, rest assured, justice shall prevail in the end. So let’s not be silent in the face of injustice. Let’s band together and keep our community safe. If you have come across people with similar experiences, please email us at us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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RED BOOK on “Police & Your Basic Rights”. These guidelines are very useful for all whether locals, migrants, or refugees.
ASKLEGAL: Can the PDRM check your phone…without a valid reason?
SOYACINCAU: Does the police have the right to check your phone?
CHIT CHAT BERSAMA JELITA: Penangkapan
SUARAM: Hak anda & kuasa polis