Canadian Supreme Court Says Government Needs To Get A Warrant To Get Your Internet Info

from the big-win-for-privacy dept

While we’re still struggling with this stuff down here in the US, the Canadian Supreme Court made a huge decision earlier today, saying that the government must get a warrant to demand your information from an internet provider. In other words, your information is private, even if it’s held by an internet company. The full ruling in this case, R. v. Spencer is worth reading, but the key finding is that there is an expectation of privacy in this information, and thus, searching it requires a warrant:

In my view, in the totality of the circumstances of this case, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the subscriber information. The disclosure of this information will often amount to the identification of a user with intimate or sensitive activities being carried out online, usually on the understanding that these activities would be anonymous. A request by a police officer that an ISP voluntarily disclose such information amounts to a search.

As Michael Geist points out, not only does this mean ISPs now need to change their procedures, but also (importantly) it should destroy the rationale for two new attempted bills concerning “legal access” (i.e., expanding the government’s ability to get information via internet service providers without a warrant). This kind of ruling should fit equally at home with the 4th Amendment here in the US, but the issue still really hasn’t been tested at the Supreme Court. Congrats up north, though, for actually recognizing the value of a warrant and just a bit of oversight on government surveillance.

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Comments on “Canadian Supreme Court Says Government Needs To Get A Warrant To Get Your Internet Info”

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kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why do so many other countries appear to have more intelligent leaders/courts than the good old USA?

For a multitude of reasons.

Globally, the parliamentary democracy system has been shown to form far more stable governments than American-style republics.

In Canada, when a corporation gives a large sum of money to a politician in exchange for passing certain laws, it is considered “bribery”, rather than “lobbying”.

Having 3 major parties (Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats) that span the political spectrum instead of just one party (Republicrats) also helps.

In the rest of the developed world, religion isn’t nearly as big of a problem as it is in the United States. We prefer to evaluate reasons and examine evidence rather than blindly having faith that things will ‘just work’.

Our education system focuses on education, rather than teaching students to pass tests.

And most of all, because our countries are utterly insignificant compared to the United States, we have to pay very close attention to what you guys are doing. When we see America failing so spectacularly, it provides us with a very clear example of what not to do, and it is discussed immensely, and public concerns can become national issues. How much attention does the United States pay to some tiny place that no one has every heard of when things go wrong there?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s the difference between an English Common law system that deals with pure very non-ambiguous constitutions, Magna Carta and other laws and regulations built over +600 years. Instead of a legal system that is purely based around an ambiguous Constitution and Bill of Rights where the “democracy” is actually an oligarchy and where ‘natural justice’ is only given to those who can afford it.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“appear” is the key word here…
you must disabuse yourself of the idea that this is really a small-dee democracy, the ‘leaders’ and such are really trying hard to make it work for us 99%, etc, etc, etc…

in other words, EVERYTHING you ‘know’ about America is a lie… EVERYTHING is bullshit propaganda intended to keep the rabble in line…

the purpose of this system, this society is NOT to provide the greatest good for the greatest number, the purpose -as set up or hijacked by our ‘superiors’- is to funnel ALL the money, ALL the power, ALL the control to the 1%…

all the while attempting to hide the naked power mongering behind a thin veneer of democracy-looking institutions and processes…

bread tastes good, and circuses are fun…

InquisitiveSole (Only half rubber) (profile) says:

I couldn't believe it when I logged in to the news this morning

So happy and proud to be Canadian today. Despite Harper’s and his neo-con cronies’ best efforts to undermine our constitution and destroy online privacy (which is what those two bills hinted at in the article would do), the SCOA – with the primary judge being a Harper appointee, no less [irony so delish] – delivered an epic smackdown.

What’s even worse about the bills that were proposed, is that not only would it allow law enforcement to get any info it wanted at any time, with no court involvement, but it would also shield ISPs from any and all lawsuits – be it civil or C.A – AND give private companies the same unrestricted access, as long as they stated that it was for security/safety reasons. No proof required, of course.

Today’s decision effectively killed all of that, and I couldn’t be happier. Especially because, just a few days ago, the gov’t lied through its teeth by stating all those proposed changes were completely constitutional, while voting down all amendments that actually tried to mitigate the damage and restore some semblance of privacy, and calling us paranoid lunatics. HA! Can’t wait till 2015 when we kick them out of office.

Yesterday, it was Wynn b****-slapping Haduk in Ontario’s election, next year it will be Trudeau doing the same to Harper.

Candid Cameron says:

Re: I couldn't believe it when I logged in to the news this morning

“Can’t wait till 2015 when we kick them out of office.”

Ditto! A lot of federal employees are still steamed at them for all of the crap they’ve pulled, so it should be totally doable. Hopefully we an get some of the non-voters to realize their vote isn’t as pointless as they think it is too. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I couldn't believe it when I logged in to the news this morning

I wish it was Mulcair who would go from #2 to #1 though. I think there’s lot of chances that the Harperites get a minority gov and in that case, the Liberals better stop being idiots and form a coalition gov with the NDP.

InquisitiveSole (Only half rubber) (profile) says:

Re: Re: I couldn't believe it when I logged in to the news this morning

Oh yeah, an NDP win would be awesome, but that’s an unrealistic dream for now. The absolute perfect scenario would be Liberal minority + NDP opposition, though that, too, is very unlikely to happen.

Especially because Justin is more appealing to the layman that Tom is, and he seems to be more to the left than typical Lib candidates – though this could be another Obama-type smokescreen – and so he is more likely to cannibalize NDP’s votes, since people don’t want another Con gov’t and also don’t think NDP can win.

Candid Cameron says:

A win for constitutional rights, I hope.

The Canadian government has been doing this kind of information gathering for a while now and we also know for a fact it’s being done on a truly massive scale. No doubt their hope was to cover their assess by making it 100% legal and to also pave the way towards a slightly more fascist state where they have even more power and control. It pays to remember that many of them have very strong ties to the various corporate interests out there, both foreign and domestic.

Canadian courts have actually been doing a pretty good job of protecting the constitutional rights of the public for a while now, something the government should be doing but isn’t. They’re called “representatives” for a reason, but they seem to have conveniently forgotten that. They’re much more keen to represent their own interests, all while ignoring the public who’ve been screaming at the top of their lungs about the problems these proposed laws would cause and their unconstitutionality. It has been very exasperating for us to say the least.

It’s time for the Canadian people to wake up and vote for real change for once. Bouncing from Liberal to Conservative to NDP is pointless when the only real difference between them is their name. I’m voting Pirate Party next time and so are a lot of other people around here. Countless federal employees haven’t forgotten what the Conservatives did when they got their majority for example. That plus their other deeds, like these terrible laws they’re trying to pass, have helped immensely in my quest to bring others over to our side, the side of reason.

I have to admit it’s been slow going, but at least some Canadians are finally starting to take notice of what their government is up to and they definitely aren’t liking what they see at all. Fingers crossed come next election that Harper gets the boot and we finally get some real honest to God change for once. Spread the word and open some eyes, folks!

Whatever says:


Unlike the US, the Canadian constitution isn’t a locked up, untouchable thing. It’s also not judged by bizarre absolutes, but rather by real world consideration. It can also be modified, although it’s not easy.

There is also the not withstanding clause, which can actually allow it to be over-ridden for a period of time.

My guess is that there will be laws passed to make ISP information no more protected than payphone records.

MizuRyuu (profile) says:

Re: canada

The Canadian constitution is completely locked up. Any major change require 50% of the province to agree, with the provinces making up 50% of the national population. Not to mention, any attempt to open up the constitution would lead to a flood of demands from the provinces for other changes before they give their support. Hence, the constitution is effectively locked up. Why else did you think Harper gave up on Senate reform as soon as the Supreme Court declared that it would require a constitutional amendment to change it?

Anonymous Coward says:

...Unlike the US...

So, what effect does this have on the US? Does it address the US’ data taps on backbone servers and international networks? Does it prevent the US from querying it’s massive database? Certainly, any query applying the NSA’s 3 degrees of separation, could query a Canadian citizen’s intercepted data. So, other than protecting the Canadian population from their government’s overreach, what, if anything, is the global effect of this ruling?

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