Canadian privacy rights are making news again, this time, bolstered by a Supreme Court ruling. On June 13th, the Court ruled in R. v. Spencer 2014 SCC 43 that internet users have the right to be anonymous. If police want to obtain individual’s identities from their internet service providers, they must obtain a search warrant. Canada’s top court confirmed that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the identity of a person linked to their internet usage and that basic internet subscriber information such as name, address and phone number may implicate privacy interests.
In its unanimous ruling, the Court recognized that “the Internet raises a host of new and challenging questions about privacy”. The Court decided that obtaining subscriber information associated with an IP address from the ISP constituted a search that engaged Charter protection because the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information. The Court recognized anonymity as one concept of privacy, which is particularly important in relation to internet usage.
We recently blogged about Bill C-13, the so-called “Anti-Cyberbullying” bill, which includes provisions that the federal and provincial privacy commissioners have criticized for allowing governments greater powers to monitor cellphones and other electronic data and to track people. The SCC’s decision in Spencer begs the question: if those provisions come into force, will they survive a SCC challenge?
Privacy rights may not be eroding in Canada after all.