In June 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that police are not entitled to warrantless access to online subscriber info. In the unanimous decision, the Court held that police must obtain a judge’s authorization in order to access customer information linked to online activities (R v Spencer). As a result, telecommunications service providers now demand court approval for most requests from law enforcement authorities for basic identifying information. This process now requires that police file time-consuming paperwork which has reduced the number of cases that can be pursued by police.
Earlier this week, at a security conference in Ottawa, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said police need warrantless access to Internet subscriber information to keep pace with child predators and other online criminal activity. He stated that it was time Canadians had a public conversation about how to prevent online exploitation. It’s an old argument: police always want fewer obstacles between their work and the people they pursue. But experts warn that expanding voluntary and warrantless disclosure raises serious constitutional questions.
Commissioner Paulson’s request for a public conversation is odd, given that the debate has already been held. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision last year, two parliamentary committees examined this issue. There was a great deal of editorial debate in the press about privacy concern and significant public outcry about former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plans to increasing electronic surveillance.
According to the commissioner, children are being “hurt at a pace and frequency that is alarming.” Most people would agree that police should certainly be working to reduce the the exploitation of children online. However, critics feel that the RCMP is using this issue as a scare tactic designed to frighten people into giving up their privacy so the RCMP can have greater powers of surveillance over Canada’s citizens. Warrants are a critical safeguard that ensure that innocent Canadians are not targeted and their rights are not infringed. It is the responsibility of police to maintain law and order, online and in real life, but that doesn’t mean that they should have limitless power. Removing the privacy safeguards of millions of Canadians because the police claim new procedure takes too long does not solve the problem.
If you have questions about your online privacy or any other criminal defence matter, please contact the lawyers at Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.