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article imageCanada's High Court upholds officers' warrantless cell searches

By Nate Smith     Dec 11, 2014 in Politics
Ottawa - In a narrow ruling, The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld warrantless searches of suspects' cell phones by police officers.
In a 4-3 ruling issued Thursday, Canada's high court has sustained law enforcement's warrantless search of mobile devices as long as the officers limit their searches and keep detailed notes about what they find.
Law enforcement must keep its search to only recently submited texts or emails. And it must only search materials relating to an active investigation, or anything involving police or public safety.
With the ruling, a majority of Canada's justices set a precedent that the occasional violation of privacy is permissible, provided there is pertinent public interest at stake, and whatever privacy violations that do occur aren't "particularly grave."
At stake were the civil liberties of Kevin Fearon, and whether or not he was unjustly convicted based upon evidence obtained during a warrantless search of his cell phone by police.
He was convicted in 2009 for his part in a Toronto robbery after police searched his phone and found a picture of a handgun and the words, "we did it."
The defendant appealed that search all the way to the Supreme Court, and although the majority notes law enforcement should have taken detailed and accurate notes about what was searched on the cell phone, that whatever invasion of privacy occurred did not strike the fact that Mr. Fearon, in fact, had committed a crime.
Dissenting justices highlighted citizens' privacy concerns. They note the warrantless searches will likely extend beyond cell phones to tablets and smart watches, too.
The majority didn't ignore obvious privacy issues, but ultimately concluded the limited nature of the directive, and a requirement to take detailed notes protects the public's broader, overall right to privacy.
More about Supreme court of canada, right to privacy, warrantless searches, government overreach, Law Enforcement
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