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Canadian Supreme Court Rethinks Computer Search Privileges

November 12th 2013



An interesting case was recently brought in front of the Supreme Court of Canada last week. The dispute involved an individual who was charged with possession and production of illegal drugs with intent to traffic those substances, as well as the theft of electricity. During the course of the investigation, local authorities were granted with a warrant to search the grounds of the alleged criminal and his or her possessions, which led to the collection of two computers and a cellphone.

Police were permitted with an Information to Obtain (ITO) that allowed the search for "computer generated notes," according to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, the ITO did not specifically state that local authorities could search the computers and cellphones for evidence. During the trial, the occupant claimed that his rights were violated, as police were not accessed with the authority to search the digital platforms. As a result, much of the evidence against the defendant was dropped.

This event raised a number of questions about data privacy and has forced local law enforcement departments to find a balance between the legitimate needs of the police and the private rights of citizens. The Supreme Court of Canada also highlighted that computers must be treated as a separate place, forcing investigators to acquire an independent search warrant for those particular platforms.

The report stated that if police come across a computer in the duration of their search, agencies must take initiative to implement robust data protection tools that maintain the integrity of any potential evidence within the device. If law enforcement wishes to use any of the information within the computer, however, departments must seek an additional warrant that permits access to the computer and all of its contents that fall within the parameters of the search.

In the coming years, law enforcement agencies must find a medium that mitigates some of the privacy invasions that are inherently involved with searching personal computers. While certain instances will provide organizations with reasonable grounds to access confidential resources pertaining to an alleged criminal's case from that person's computer, administrations must remain within the law when taking advantage of warrants that permit the search of devices where personal and other sensitive information are stored.



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