Unreasonable searches

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling acknowledging Canadians’ right to privacy online. In doing so, the Court has arguably placed the biggest limitation on PIPEDA since its inception. What’s more, the justices appear to have frustrated Ottawa’s efforts to extend police powers to obtain data without a warrant. It is still unclear how much of an impact the ruling will have.

“I was not surprised. For me, it was obvious.”

In R. v. Spencer, the Court effectively reigned in police powers to make informal requests under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The requests were, more often than not, police receiving a suspect’s name and address based only an IP address. For Brandon Spencer, that meant police could connect his online activity — allegedly downloading and sharing child pornography — with his Saskatoon home, thanks to a PIPEDA request made to his Internet Service Provider, Shaw.

While the court upheld one conviction, and allowed a new trial on the second charge to proceed — it allowed the evidence, as they found that the police acted in good faith in obtaining the evidence — the ruling is quite clear: police no longer have the power to make warrantless requests to telecommunications companies.

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This content has been updated on August 23, 2014 at 14 h 14 min.