Supreme Court reaffirms our "most comprehensive" of rights

Par Beryl Wajsman le 20 juin 2014

Supreme Court reaffirms our "most comprehensive"of rights Internet privacy and due process protections strengthened

Friday's unanimous Supreme Court decision in the Spencer case is not only a watershed in privacy rights but also reaffirms that due process is our paramount protection of liberty. The Court ruled that security authorities could not demand of internet service providers the identities and addresses of people unless a warrant was obtained first. It said that warrantless internet searches were "presumptively unreasonable." The Court stated that internet users have a right to,privacy pending a warrant. Yet violations of this basic civil right has been going on for years.

Recent reports have demonstrated that law enforcement authorities and government agencies have been routinely asking Canadian telecommunications companies for information about their subscribers each year without a warrant. In 2011 alone,the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association reported to Canada's privacy commissioner that its members received 1.2 million requests for customer information in one year and disclosed information about 780,000 customers.  Rogers Communications released a report last week showing that it received almost 175,000 requests for information about its customers from government and police agencies last year alone.

The Spencer decision now bars internet service providers from disclosing the names, addresses and phone numbers of their customers to law enforcement officials voluntarily in response to a simple request.  A warrant will now be required and a judge will have to be shown cause. It's about time.

The public now has a right to know the profiles of the people that government agencies and security authorities have been investigating without legal colour of right. This is a dangerous practice. Freedom is maintained only if liberty and the rule of law are the means not just the ends.

Several international organizations have for some years cautioned that Canada is among the most invasive of western democracies. Internet oversight without warrant was first proposed in Canada under Liberal governments in the early 2000s. Conservative principles of respect for individual rights and a non-instrusive state should make respect for the Spencer decision axiomatic.

Perhaps we will finally adopt the lesson of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis who warned in the 1928 that,  "All civilized systems of law confer upon man, as against their Governments, the right to be let alone. The most comprehensive of rights and the most valued by civilized men. The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop . The next step must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual the right to be let alone." It is to be hoped that the Spencer decision is Canada's "next step" in that process.

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Beryl P. Wajsman

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