Supreme Court of Canada – Police rights to Search Cellphones

On December 11, 2014, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that police can conduct limited searches of suspects’ cellphones without a search warrant….but, they must follow strict rules. The search must be directly related to the circumstances of an arrest, and detailed records of the search must be kept.
The Court’s 4 to 3 ruling is a margin so narrow one wonders how much sway tipped the decision one way or the other.
This writer is ambivalent on the subject, but there’s a tendency to agree with the Court. The problem though, and the issue I have with the SCC’s ruling, is best articulated in Heather Mallick’s December 15 Toronto Star column, “Court ruling on cellphones ravages people’s privacy.” It questions the Court’s belief that the police can regulate themselves, and will follow the rules. There can be information on a cellphone subject to broad interpretation, stored for personal but non-relevant purposes, and in some cases outdated and awaiting deletion. Check out this column on the Star’s web site. In any case, we can foretell legal challenges are to come.
One important question Ms. Mallick asks in her column is, can a suspect refuse to provide a phone’s password to the police. I was able to email her the answer. No, suspects are not required to provide passwords, BUT the police know that most people don’t know that and they will press for the information. The message……be informed….and inform. And, choose passwords wisely.


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