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Supreme Court rules Canadians have a right to anonymity online

By Laura Tribe

This morning [13 June 2014] the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision on R. v. Spencer, with a judgment that will have a substantial impact on online privacy in Canada. The case examined internet service providers' disclosure of basic subscriber information to law enforcement on a voluntary basis (without a warrant), with a unanimous decision that ruled in favour of protecting users' privacy. Among other implications, this decision means that law enforcement agencies will be required to obtain a warrant to obtain subscriber information, as it is tantamount to a search.

Steve Anderson, Executive Director of Open Media, stated, “This is a historic decision that will protect countless law-abiding Canadians from being unjustly spied on by the government.” Open Media has called the judgment a “huge win for Canadian privacy.” Importantly, this decision poses serious challenges to Bill C-13, the 'Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act,' which would subject Canadians to unwarranted surveillance and monitoring by the government under the guise of protection against cyberbullying.

Dr. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, calls this Supreme Court ruling “a decision that seems likely to define Internet privacy for many years to come,” also highlighting the challenges this poses to the government's proposed legislation, in bills C-13 and S-4.

CJFE and numerous other organizations have strongly spoken out against Bill C-13, as it poses a substantial threat to free expression. Newly appointed Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, has also spoken out against the bill with concerns that it would give police increased power for surveillance.

Protecting Canadians' privacy online is an important aspect of defending our right to free expression. Having a safe and private space to communicate is an important part of this right; it allows us to express ourselves to whom we choose, when we choose, without fear of negative ramifications from warrantless surveillance. CJFE welcomes this significant decision and looks forward to the positive impact this will have for protecting Canadians' online activities.

Read the full Supreme Court ruling.

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