online security

Supreme Court of Canada Finds That Some Texts Are Considered Private

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

We have previously blogged about the topic of whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages. The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) ruled last week that Canadians can expect the text messages that they send to remain private even after they reach their destination (i.e. depending on the circumstances, there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages even after they have been sent to another person).

In a 5-2 ruling, the SCC in R. v. Marakah set aside the firearms convictions of a man whose incriminating text messages were found on the phone of an alleged accomplice by Toronto police.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An Ontario man, Nour Marakah, sent text messages regarding illegal transactions in firearms to his accomplice, Andrew Winchester. The police obtained and executed warrants for both Marakah’s and Winchester’s homes. While conducting the search, the police found Marakah’s Blackberry and Winchester’s iPhone and proceeded to search both devices, which revealed the incriminating text messages. These messages were then used as evidence to charge Marakah.

At trial, Marakah argued that the messages should not be admitted as evidence against him because they were obtained in violation of his rights against unreasonable search or seizure under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”).

The Ontario application judge found that the warrant for Marakah’s home had been invalid and that the text messages recovered from his own Blackberry could not be used against him. However, the court admitted the text messages from Winchester’s iPhone as evidence. Based on these messages, Marakah was convicted of multiple firearms offences.

The Court ultimately found that while someone who sends a text message has a reasonable expectation of privacy, this expectation ends when the message reaches the intended recipient.

Marakah appealed to the Court of Appeal, where he was unsuccessful. The majority of the Court agreed that Marakah could have no expectation of privacy in the text messages retrieved from Winchester’s iPhone, and therefore could not make a case against their admissibility. Marakah appealed further to the SCC.

SUPREME COURT OF CANADA RULING

The SCC allowed Marakah’s appeal, set aside the convictions and entered acquittals on all charges against him.

The Court found that Marakah had a reasonable expectation of privacy concerning his text messages. Therefore, the texts used as evidence to convict him had violated his guaranteed right to be protected against unreasonable search or seizure under the Charter.

In this case, Marakah was found to be the author of the text messages that he expected to remain private.  He had asked the recipient of the messages, Winchester, on numerous occasions to delete the messages. Marakah’s conviction was thrown out because the search was unreasonable and violated his right under section 8 of the Charter.

Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, writing for the majority, stated,

I conclude that depending on the totality of the circumstances, text messages that have been sent and received may in some cases be protected under s. 8 and that, in this case, Mr. Marakah had standing to argue that the text messages at issue enjoy s. 8 protection.

The SCC did set out a four-step test to determine if and when one can reasonably expect privacy:

  1. What was the subject matter of the alleged search?
  2. Did the claimant (i.e. the person claiming privacy) have a direct interest in the subject matter?
  3. Did the claimant have a subjective expectation of privacy in the subject matter?
  4. If so, was the claimant’s subjective expectation of privacy objectively reasonable?

The SCC found that Marakah had standing to challenge the search based upon the following:

  1. The subject matter of the search was the electronic conversation between Marakah and Winchester;
  2. Marakah had a direct interest in the subject matter;
  3. Marakah subjectively expected the subject matter to be private;
  4. Marakah’s expectation was objectively reasonable.

The Court concluded that without the incorrectly admitted text message evidence, which was found to be inadmissible, Marakah would have been acquitted.

CAUTION BY THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA

The SCC did caution that the expectation of privacy is not automatic and depends upon the facts of each case and that the outcome may be different in other circumstances. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin noted,

This is not to say, however, that every communication occurring through an electronic medium will attract a reasonable expectation of privacy and hence grant an accused standing to make arguments regarding s. 8 protection. This case does not concern, for example, messages posted on social media, conversations occurring in crowded Internet chat rooms, or comments posted on online message boards.

Therefore, we must expect that the law will adapt to changes and developments in technology and communication over time.   As these changes take place in the law, we will continue to provide updates through this blog.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about charges laid against you or your legal rights, call Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24/7.

 

 

Text Messages: Is there a Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently ruled that text messages seized from a recipient’s phone can be used against the sender in court.

In R v Marakah, 2016 ONCA 542, Nour Marakah appealed his conviction of multiple firearms offences arguing that the text messages used as evidence against him at trial were not lawfully obtained and should have been excluded by the trial judge.

The Court of Appeal ruled 2-1 against Mr. Marakah, stating that he did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the messages once they had been sent. Mr. Marakah was successful in bringing a section 8 Charter challenge regarding the evidence seized at his home and from his own cell phone. Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects all Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure.

However, regarding the messages seized from the cellphone of his co-accused, Andrew Winchester, the Court of Appeal sided with the trial judge in finding that Mr. Marakah did not have standing to challenge the search of Mr. Winchester’s phone. The test for establishing a section 8 Charter right is to for the applicant to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Court of Appeal found that once Mr. Marakah had sent the messages, they were no longer under his control. Although he told Mr. Winchester that he expected the messages to be kept confidential, his subjective expectation of privacy in the text messages was not enough to satisfy the test because his expectation of privacy was not objectively reasonable.

The Court found that Mr. Marakah knew that he had no control over what would happen to the text messages once they reached Mr. Winchester’s phone and he therefore could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the messages. Text messages, according to the decision, are more akin to an email or letter than voice communication.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.

To read the full decision, click here.

RCMP Want Warrantless Access to Your Online Info

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

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.

Sources:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/paulson-rcmp-subscriber-info-warrantless-access-1.3337028

http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/openmediaca/2015/11/rcmp-pushing-warrantless-access-to-our-subscriber-info-again