Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Police Cellphone Searches Threaten Privacy

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Police Cellphone Searches Threaten Privacy

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Police cellphone searches threaten privacy


An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Feb. 25:

More Canadians than ever are using cellphones as minicomputers that contain a treasure trove of personal information.

Who hasn't stored phone numbers, addresses and other details about family, friends and acquaintances? Cells, smart phones and similar devices can contain bank records, workplace data, security codes. They hold private correspondence, medical records, diaries, memos and notes. Photos and videos. Facebook and Twitter accounts. And Internet browsing histories. The list is virtually endless.

They are a yawning portal into our private lives. And in a ruling this past week, Justice Robert Armstrong and two other judges of the Court of Appeal for Ontario rightly acknowledged "the highly personal and sensitive nature" of cellphone contents and the "high expectation of privacy" that people have of such devices.

Yet even so, the court upheld the right of police who are making an arrest to also make at least a cursory search of the suspect's cellphone contents without a judge's warrant unless the phone is password-protected.

While the Supreme Court has yet to be heard on the issue, this is a troubling ruling. Canadian law is clearly lagging behind public expectations when it comes to privacy rights. Cellphones aren't pockets, purses or backpacks, which the police have long been allowed to search. Potentially, at least, they hold vastly more information. This ruling also raises the question of why the police should be free to examine unprotected phones but not protected ones. It may be the law, but if so the law needs fixing.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government should take a hard look at this issue, with an eye to passing legislation requiring police to obtain warrants before making even cursory searches of cellphones or similar electronic devices in all but the most exceptional cases. …

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