Feeds

Top Canadian court: Cops need warrant to get names from ISPs

Decision could scupper nascent cyberbullying, privacy bills

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Canadian ISPs can no longer simply hand over customer information without a warrant after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that internet users were entitled to a "reasonable" expectation of privacy.

The decision means that internet service providers can no longer disclose the names, addresses and phone numbers of their customers to law enforcement voluntarily, and cops will instead be required to get a warrant for the data.

The ruling stems from the case of Matthew David Spencer, who appealed his conviction for possession of child pornography after police officers tracked him down through an IP address. The cops knew the IP address associated with the illegal files and went to Spencer’s ISP to ask it for the associated name and address. Once they got his details, they were able to search his computer, where they found the downloaded files.

Spencer argued that the search of his computer had been unconstitutional and that his right to privacy had been violated, pursuing the case through the court of appeal and on to the Supreme Court. The top court ruled that internet users had a "reasonable expectation of privacy" from their ISPs, but did not overturn Spencer’s conviction.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell said in the ruling that the police should have obtained a warrant before getting Spencer’s information. But he said that the police had acted in good faith at the time, so the administration of justice would be impaired if the evidence they acquired at Spencer’s house was to be thrown out.

“It would be reasonable for an internet user to expect that a simple request by police would not trigger an obligation to disclose personal information or defeat (the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) PIPEDA’s general prohibition on the disclosure of personal information without consent,” he said.

“The police, however, were acting by what they reasonably thought were lawful means to pursue an important law enforcement purpose. The nature of the police conduct in this case would not tend to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

“Society has a strong interest in the adjudication of the case and also in ensuring the justice system remains above reproach in its treatment of those charged with these serious offences. Balancing the three factors, the exclusion of the evidence rather than its admission would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”

Further implications

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) said in a statement that the ruling clarified a longstanding dispute over whether PIPEDA allowed police to obtain subscriber info without a warrant. The association is trying to get parts of PIPEDA declared unconstitutional for privacy reasons.

“The implications of the decision are substantial, and may play a significant role in CCLA’s ongoing Charter challenge to PIPEDA,” the association said. “In particular, the Court’s decision confirms CCLA’s view that PIPEDA is legislation to protect privacy, and cannot be used to undermine it.”

The decision may also affect two government bills, one intended to crack down on cyberbullying (C-13) and the other designed to update PIPEDA. The bill updating the privacy act currently includes provision that would make it easier for police to get subscriber info without a warrant, which could now be unlawful.

The cyberbullying bill has elements that would give law enforcement easier access to the metadata that ISPs and phone companies keep on calls and emails.

The Canadian government said in its parliament on Friday that it was reviewing the decision. Opposition MP Peter Julian (New Democratic Party) challenged the sitting Conservative Party of Canada government on the ruling, saying that it showed that his party and privacy experts had been right all along.

“This morning, the Supreme Court ruled what the NDP and privacy experts had been warning all along, that allowing police to pull private information from telephone companies without warrant was unconstitutional. Yet the Conservatives are steamrolling ahead with (the cyberbullying) Bill C-13, which also allows unconstitutional spying on Canadians,” he said.

“With yet another bill struck down by the Supreme Court, when will the Conservatives finally take a balanced approach that keeps Canadians secure without infringing on constitutional rights?” he asked.

Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said the government was looking at the ruling.

“We have just received the decision and we will review it. In addition, we will continue to crack down on cyberbullies and online criminals who work against and make our children and all Canadians unsafe. We will keep Canadians safe,” he said. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
Chips are down at Broadcom: Thousands of workers laid off
Cellphone baseband device biz shuttered
Feel free to BONK on the TUBE, says Transport for London
Plus: Almost NOBODY uses pay-by-bonk on buses - Visa
Amazon says Hachette should lower ebook prices, pay authors more
Oh yeah ... and a 30% cut for Amazon to seal the deal
Twitch rich as Google flicks $1bn hitch switch, claims snitch
Gameplay streaming biz and search king refuse to deny fresh gobble rumors
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.