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Canada Privacy The Courts Your Rights Online

Canadian Supreme Court Delivers Huge Win For Internet Privacy 112

An anonymous reader writes For the past several months, many Canadians have been debating privacy reform, with the government moving forward on two bills involving Internet surveillance and expanded voluntary, warrantless disclosure of personal information. Today, the Supreme Court of Canada entered the debate and completely changed the discussion, issuing its long-awaited R. v. Spencer decision, which examined the legality of voluntary warrantless disclosure of basic subscriber information to law enforcement. Michael Geist summarizes the findings, noting that the unanimous decision included a strong endorsement of Internet privacy, emphasizing the privacy importance of subscriber information, the right to anonymity, and the need for police to obtain a warrant for subscriber information except in exigent circumstances or under a reasonable law.
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Canadian Supreme Court Delivers Huge Win For Internet Privacy

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  • But (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @03:57PM (#47232447)

    What if the company involved is in the USA

    • barely means shit in Canada ... to foreign governments it means less than spit on a windy day.
      • Your post history(sorry) suggests you're American. Why do you feel like you have jack shit to say about how Canadian government works?

        • I think you didn't read the GPs comment after the '...'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Companies in the USA could use this as supplementary precedent if they ever get involved in a similar court case. International precedent gets used more often than you might think - for instance, I've heard they cited it in the case in Connecticut where they outlawed the death penalty. Part of the argument was that it had been outlawed at one point, but they cited European laws that outlaw the death penalty as well.

    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      They'll hand it over to the US government which will share it to its 5 Eyes buddy the Canadian government. No different than what the UK and the US governments due to get around domestic laws on surveillance.

    • Re:But (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Friday June 13, 2014 @04:50PM (#47232857) Homepage

      What if the company involved is in the USA

      It means nothing. Because in Canada, you're still subject to the laws of Canada if you sell, offer, or deliver a product here. And in 99% of all cases, the company either operates here or operates through a subsidiary. If the ruling couldn't go against a company because they had no presence, it would go after those who are distributing the product.

      • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

        A US court can order a US company with a Canadian subsidiary to disclose information on a Canadian citizen, even if such disclosure would be a violation of Canadian law.

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          And a Canadian court can do the same. That doesn't mean that data retention laws don't apply, but the number of companies that hold data storage outside of Canada is dwindling quickly and for good reason.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          A US court can order a US company with a Canadian subsidary to disclose information on a Canadian citizen but if the susidary was set up correctly there would be little to no information under the control of the American comapany and the Canadian subsidary would balk at handing it over in many circumstances because of privacy/etc/ laws here in Canada would trump a dumb desicion from an American judge.

          If the companies are set up poorly ... the American parent company can be sued by Canadians and hit with lar

        • Re:But (Score:4, Informative)

          by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Saturday June 14, 2014 @12:11AM (#47234849) Homepage

          A US court can order it but the Canadian subsidiary would be required under Canadian law to provide the parent company with that information to hand to the US court. All quite legal. Parent company sends the request with the court order to the subsidiary and the subsidiary refuses, citing the appropriate Canadian law. The US court then fruitlessly fumes because the US parent has obeyed the order and sought the information and can legally substantiate that, they were just unsuccessful in that endeavour, the government can in some circumstances force you to try but in reality regardless of anything claimed they can not force you to succeed, you just must just genuinely try to succeed.

    • by MacTO ( 1161105 )

      Certain financial institutions, educational institutions, and governmental institutions keep data on domestic soil simply to ensure that it is covered by Canadian privacy laws. That is true even if it is a foreign company.

      That said, I have to wonder how much protection that data would have if the data was stored in Canada but accessed from a foreign nation. Say if the U.S. subsidiary receives a warrant for data stored by the Canadian subsidiary, and the U.S. subsidiary accesses the data in Canada from the

      • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

        Not just that, there's a general push among small to medium ISPs to avoid routing data through the US if possible, to avoid the security risks inherent in passing through that country. For example, my ISP used to route data between Toronto and Montreal via Chicago and New York City, but these routes it over a more direct Montreal/Toronto route to avoid going through the US, even though it likely costs a bit more. Larger ISPs don't care as much about this, though.

  • Think of the poor bureaucrats and how they will now actually have to prove that they have a reason for these invasive abuses. They blah blah about abducted children and whatnot but I am fairly sure that if they go into a judge and say "abducted child" that the judge will be pretty free with the information and might not even mind being woken up in the middle of the night. But if they say, "Hunting a journalist investigating the RCMP" that the judge will tell them to go to hell.
    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      Already heard a cop bitching how much harder it'll make investigating child porn. As if he couldn't go to a judge and get a warrant when he has clear evidence, especially as this ruling also lowers the bar for getting a warrant.

      • I think that it was never about child porn, it is about their more petty searches such as whistleblowers, protesters, NGOs, political opponents, and the fishing expeditions that they probably found as making it easier to ruin people's lives with blackmail information. I can just see the police threatening to show your browser history to friends, family, and work. If you don't "help" them with their investigation.
        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          I agree that that is the real motivation but for public consumption it was first child porn and now internet bullies.
          A little while ago Rogers published how many law enforcement requests for info they'd had over the last year, mostly for subscriber info which they gave out without a warrant. Forget the actual number but it was huge, something like 3/4s of a million IIRC, and that was just Rogers. Why the hell the government needs that many subscribers info becomes the question, it sure isn't all child porn

          • My guess is that they are trying to build a profile database. They can then make a nice list of your interests and those of your friends and your friends friends etc. This way if they are considering you for a judgeship and it looks like you don't like the police abusing people or have activist friends then you won't be a judge. But if it looks like all your friends are "throw away the key types" just like you, then you will pass all the security checks when considered for a judgeship.

            Basically they don't
  • when the US demands Canada comply with 'international norms'.
  • by stevez67 ( 2374822 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @04:13PM (#47232547)
    This whole situation assumes a government having access to and data-mining your online activities is inherently more dangerous than the same behavior by large, multinational, profit driven corporations.
    • by sribe ( 304414 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @04:27PM (#47232665)

      This whole situation assumes a government having access to and data-mining your online activities is inherently more dangerous than the same behavior by large, multinational, profit driven corporations.

      Large multinational corporations do not (yet, at least) have the ability to storm your house with heavily armed troops, kick in your door, throw you face down on the floor, tear apart your house, and shoot you dead if you so much as give any hint of resistance. So yes, government is more dangerous.

      • Don't forget hold you in jail indefinitely without a trial or even being able to examine the evidence against you.

        Thank you Patriot Act. You're a real fucking patriot.

        • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

          I think you'll find that the patriot act has little bearing on Canadian citizens, unless they enter the United States.

          • by rikkards ( 98006 )

            His point is still valid as an example of where things could go if left unchecked. Don't get all high and mighty as this is a Canadian-related thread.

      • Agreed, except in the case of certain media industries which seem to command the government and police to carry out their orders.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      I understand and even agree with your point that data-mining by private companies is nearly as dangerous as when government is involved, but in this specific case what would the Big Data do with information that some dude uploaded bunch of pedobear content? Show him more targeted ads for hand lotion?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It isn't lost at all.

      This is a war that must be fought one battle at a time. Rest assured that plenty of people are also fighting the corporate data-stalkers. You can do your part by supporting the fight rather than tearing down the victories.

    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      Why can't we see both as equally dangerous? Why the false dilemma?

    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      Canada also has pretty strong privacy laws for business, so in theory American companies are bared from even bidding for various things. Of course with our open and transparent Conservative government most of the privacy laws don't seem to be enforced as what they actually meant was that the citizens would be open and transparent to the government.

  • If nothing else it will make weed out the strong cases from the fishing expeditions. All citizens deserve privacy in the absence of any evidence of wrong doing. To know that we now have that gives one hope that the system is working to a degree.
    • What do you mean "rare?" The SCC regularly rules on the side of citizens. Note the striking down of a 30 year old section of the law regarding exigent circumstances. Also note the privacy commissioner regularly going after companies like Google and Facebook for violating the privacy rights of people here. Despite what people think, the courts have started fundamentally shifting back to the rights of the individual. This includes away from the government, business, and criminals. In the last 14 years especially away from the rights of criminals.

  • Does Canada have a real way to stop the government from breaking its own laws? The US does not. And how will this effect information that flows internationally? Does a Canadian on vacation in Miami Beach who wants to connect to a Canadian ISP have any real hope of protection? Will criminals who live near the Canadian border cross the border to communicate?
    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      Five Eyes intelligence sharing will always be used to end run domestic laws.

    • Re:Maybe Not (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @04:40PM (#47232767) Homepage

      Does Canada have a real way to stop the government from breaking its own laws?

      Well, yes. We have a constitution, so we can challenge laws that are passed by the government. And we have something called "democracy" and "the rule of law" which tend to curb the worst excesses.

      • Actually, the biggest way Canada has to deal with lawbreakers is that we have more than two political parties, and they tend to break different laws, and the others gang up on the one who broke the laws (so you always have a majority punishing the lawbreaker).

        Now for the bureaucratic level, not so much; but the privacy commissioner actually has a few teeth, and there's enough discord that if people are caught, they usually can't become repeat offenders.

        Plus, the government is still accountable to the Govern

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          While Canada was set up to have a more powerful federal government then America due to us watching the American civil war, the Provinces do have some sovereignty, there are things the feds can't interfere with such as property rights and the Provinces each have their own representative of the Crown in the persons of the Lieutenant Governors who have to give royal assent to bills passed by the Provincial Legislatures before they actually become law.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Will criminals who live near the Canadian border cross the border to communicate?

      Considering criminals already do, especially for drug related things. This is pretty much old news, what's interesting though is you won't find them communicating to do murders and so on. Because in Canada, we don't ever stop hunting for you, unlike in the US. If you committed a murder 3 months ago or 30 years ago, it won't matter. There's always someone dedicated to it. That's not even counting cold cases.

      • If you committed a murder 3 months ago or 30 years ago, it won't matter. There's always someone dedicated to it. That's not even counting cold cases.

        In Canada, ALL cases are cold cases...

  • Great to see, eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sasparillascott ( 1267058 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @04:34PM (#47232715)
    Just awesome to see the Canadian legal system still has its eyes open. Now the political/intelligence system has been in lockstep with the U.S. on the surveillance of everything/everyone program - but maybe there's hope up in the great north. I wish our (U.S.) legal system was so clear sighted on these issues.
  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @05:07PM (#47232965)

    This is meaningless.

    ...except in exigent circumstances or under a reasonable law.

    Exigent : pressing; demanding.

    Right, so law enforcement can twist that to any meaning they want.

    • Re:Meaningless (Score:4, Insightful)

      by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @05:37PM (#47233157)

      Right, so law enforcement can twist that to any meaning they want.

      At which point the judge crumples up their illegitimately obtained evidence and tosses it out, along with their case.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        Maybe. The fruit of the poisonous tree isn't absolute here, note that the conviction of the child pornographer who this case was about did not get his conviction overthrown.

      • Right, so law enforcement can twist that to any meaning they want.

        At which point the judge crumples up their illegitimately obtained evidence and tosses it out, along with their case.

        based on what? There is a clear ruling. That's why this is bad.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Exigent circumstances are well defined in Canadian courts any attempt by the police to redefine them on their own would be meet with great resistance by the court system. The Canadian police would find themselves on the losing end of to many legal battles to try that because it would be a massive waste of resources and very bad PR.

  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Friday June 13, 2014 @05:32PM (#47233135) Homepage Journal

    It should be noted that not only do Canadian citizens have a Right of Privacy in the Canadian Constitution, but this overrides all agreements and treaties like the US-Canada Data Treaty so that US firms must ensure Canadians in their data have privacy as well.


  • Sudden outbreak of common sense...

  • This is an important decision for both Canada and the US. The current government has two bills (proposed laws) in front of Parliamentary committees this week where, over the consistent objections of the Canadian privacy community, they planned to _expand_ warrantless searches. And then this decision comes along - thank heavens - and our Supreme Court says that there has to be a subpoena, or a reasonable law, before the right to anonymity - get that, the right to anonymity!- can be overridden. The 'reasonabl

  • So this helps out like, 15 people?
    • So this helps out like, 15 people?

      Closer to a million

      In 2011, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association reported to Canada's privacy commissioner its members received 1.2 million requests for customer information in one year and disclosed information about 780,000 customers. []

      I strongly doubt these requests prevented or helped prosecute 780,000 crimes. Thankfully the courts can tell gratuitous fishing when they see it.

  • More transparency into government and business would, I think, have a lot more benefits than incrementally regaining a little privacy.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is a ruling I think we all wanted, that the release of traceable information related to a known customer IP is a breach of reasonable privacy. Reading further though in the above case, is to note that the ruling does not preclude evidence gathered in this way from being later used in court.

    You see in Canada there is a prosecution plea of "In good faith" that can often allow bad evidence to be used in court under a judges discretion, or in the case where it is an appeal used in a later retrial.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.