Supreme Court of Canada Gets Privacy Call Right: Let’s Keep Going

Please note, I am not a lawyer, nor have I played one on TV (though I really liked Boston Legal). I’m also not a privacy expert, but I really value mine. Like, really value it. I mean it.

Earlier this week, March 27th to be precise, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that authorities need a wiretap warrant to “intercept” text messages, the same as they need for listening in on phone conversations. You can read the full ruling here and you can check out CTV’s take on it here. For you non-Canadians, CTV is one of our national broadcasters.

In essence, the court opined that text messages are equivalent to an electronic conversation and should be afforded the same level of privacy. So far so good, but what I want to know is what makes communication a conversation? To my mind, a conversation occurs when one or more parties are interactively using their words and their ears. Whether the conversation occurs on the phone, in person, over computers … whatever, makes absolutely no difference. At the same time, what excludes electronic communication from being a conversation?

Is a chat via instant messaging not an electronic conversation much like text messaging? True, the devices may be different, but it was the court that stated that the technology should not matter. Are private/direct messages via social networking sites not private conversations? Is an email thread between specific individuals not sometimes a private, electronic conversation?

My point is this …

If we’re going to hold the authorities to a higher standard when they want to “listen in” on our conversations, we need to be very clear about what a “conversation” is. If text messages require a wiretap warrant (btw, what about texts stored on the device?), then so too should instant messages, private/direct messages, and some emails.

I’m in favour of providing the authorities with the tools they need to effectively deal with crime and criminals, but not at the expense of my privacy.

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