Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

R. V. Spencer: Anonymity, the Rule of Law, and the Shrivelling of the Biographical Core

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

R. V. Spencer: Anonymity, the Rule of Law, and the Shrivelling of the Biographical Core

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision in R. v. Spencer is likely to become a landmark decision on informational privacy. Spencer addressed the issue of whether an Internet user charged with possession and distribution of child pornography had a Charter-protected privacy interest in his Internet subscriber information. A unanimous Supreme Court answered this question in the affirmative, primarily because such information could lead to the identification of a user carrying out intimate or sensitive activities in circumstances where the user would believe that his or her activities would be earned out anonymously. The immediate practical consequence of Spencer is that police will henceforth be required to obtain prior judicial authorization before requesting a person's Internet subscriber information--a holding that squarely contradicts a number of recent appellate court decisions. In this comment, the authors argue that Spencer is likely to have a significant, and possibly transformative, impact on section 8 jurisprudence. In their view, the Court's recognition of "anonymity" as an independent value underlying section 8 of the Charter leads to a more robust account of privacy--an account that is more consistent with theoretical approaches to the concept. The authors argue that the recognition of a right to anonymity may also serve to support the rule of law by refocusing the section 8 analysis on unwanted scrutiny by the state. In addition, an emphasis on the right to anonymity may lead to a diminished role for the analytical device known as the "biographical core". The authors conclude their comment with a discussion of the Court's decision to admit the impugned evidence under section 24(2) of the Charter, arguing that the Court placed too much emphasis on the legal uncertainty surrounding the search.

Le jugement recent de la Cour supreme du Canada dans R. c. Spencer s'annonce en tant que decision historique en ce qui a trait au caractere prive des renseignements personnels. La Cour devait. decider si un internaute reconnu coupable de possession et de distribution de pornographie juvenile jouissait neanmoins d'un interet en matiere de vie privee protege par la Charte concernant ses renseignements d'abonne aux services Internet. C'est d'une seule voix que la Cour supreme a repondu par l'affirmative, principalement parce que de tels renseignements permettent d'identifier un utilisateur s'adonnant a des activites intimes ou confidentielles alors que ce dernier croit agir sous le couvert de l'anonymat. Il s'ensuit que les policiers auront dorenavant a obtenir une autorisation judiciaire avant de recueillir les renseignements d'abonne aux services internet d'un individu--une decision qui contredit ouvertement plusieurs jugements recemment rendus par differentes cours d'appel canadiennes. Dans cette etude, les auteurs soutiennent que Spencer aura probablement un impact significatif, et possiblement transformateur, sur la jurisprudence relative a l'article 8. A leur avis, la reconnaissance par la Cour de << l'anonymat >> comme valeur independante soustendant l'article 8 de la Charte entraine une notion plus robuste de la vie privee--plus coherentes avec la doctrine de l'article 8. Les auteurs soutiennent que la reconnaissance d'un droit a l'anonymat pourrait egalement servir a epauler la primaute du droit en recentrant l'analyse de l'article 8 sur les surveillances indesirables de l'Etat. En outre, une insistance sur le droit a l'anonymat pourrait entrainer un role attenue du dispositif analytique des << renseignements biographiques d'ordre personnel>>. Les auteurs concluent leur commentaire en discutant de la decision de la Cour d'admettre la preuve contestee en vertu de l'article 24(2) de la Charte. Ils soutiennent notamment que la Cour a donne trop d'importance a l'incertitude juridique liee a la fouille.

Introduction
I.   The Background and Facts
II.  The Supreme Court of Canada's Decision
III. … 
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