In this answer Matthew mentions that Section 366 of the Communications Act 2003 grants the person executing the warrant the power to examine your equipment.

Specifically it says

give the person carrying out the examination or test all such assistance as that person may reasonably require for carrying it out.


A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)intentionally obstructs a person in the exercise of any power conferred on that person by virtue of a warrant under this section; or

(b)without reasonable excuse, fails to give any assistance that he is under a duty to give by virtue of subsection (7).

So say you have a locked mobile phone on you that requires a passcode to unlock. Such devices can receive broadcasts that require a TV licence, e.g. via iPlayer. Do you have to unlock it?

Would, for example, the argument that your phone or computer contains sensitive or personal data be a "reasonable excuse"? Such data could include embarrassing photos, other people's personal data and the like. In particular I can imagine they may want to view your browser history to see if you have visited iplayer.com.

1 Answer 1


It will be fact-specific, but potentially not unlocking your phone for such a reason could be a "reasonable excuse". However, you will need to provide evidence for such an excuse. The prosecution will still have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the excuse is not "reasonable".

It is entirely possible that the court would determine any such excuse based on privacy to not be reasonable, partly because it grants a very broad shield to defendants which would frustrate the purpose of the law, but partly because they can point to precedent that privacy is not an absolute right and that privacy infringement can be justified in the circumstances (the same way the police can search your phone).

I have not been able to find any relevant case law on the matter, but I will keep investigating and update my answer if I find any.

As an aside, it does appear possible for any warrant obtained by TV Licensing officials to include a Section 49 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 notice which would compel you to unlock the phone regardless of any "reasonable excuse". Failure to do so would result in a conviction under Section 53 of the Act.

  • 2
    In practice, I can find out whether iPlayer is on your iPhone without any violation of your privacy: I'd ask you to unlock the phone, but not in my presence, go to the Search page and enter iPlayer. Then show me the search results. You can cover everything that is private with your hand.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 7:35
  • Seems reasonable!
    – Matthew
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 8:19
  • 1
    @gnasher729 seems like an ideal opportunity to uninstall iPlayer quickly
    – user
    Commented Aug 4, 2020 at 12:52

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