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    Globe and Mail (Canada): Canadians have right to online anonymity, Supreme Court rules

    The Globe and Mail reports on a case in Canada concerning the privacy rights of customers of Internet service providers:

    Rejecting government fears of a “crime-friendly Internet,” the Supreme Court of Canada said anonymity is vital to personal privacy in the digital era. It told police they need a judge’s permission before asking Internet providers for basic information that would identify their customers – such as a suspected child pornographer at the heart of a 2007 Saskatchewan investigation.

    Legal observers called the unanimous ruling a privacy landmark, with implications for everything from child porn investigations to snooping by national security agencies to police powers under the Conservative government’s cyberbullying bill.David Fraser, a Halifax privacy lawyer, said that “the message to police is ‘Come back with a warrant;’ customers’ names and addresses are not as innocuous as police might think, or want us to believe.” The Conservative government would not say whether it would amend proposed laws that expand the sharing of that kind of private information. […]

    Friday’s ruling came after a 2007 child pornography investigation in which Saskatoon police, acting without a warrant, asked Shaw Communications for information on a user, and Shaw complied. That request led ultimately to the arrest and conviction of Matthew Spencer for possession of child pornography. The Supreme Court allowed that conviction to stand, saying police believed they were acting lawfully, and throwing the child-porn evidence out would harm the justice system’s reputation.

    But in future, Canadian police are on notice — whether they are chasing child pornographers, terrorists or any other criminals — that they need a search warrant, even if they are asking only to obtain the name and home address of a consumer who has signed up for Internet use.

    The Saskatoon case forced the judges, most of whom were born before 1950, to determine what Canadians reasonably expect in privacy when they use the Internet. They found a high expectation of privacy, with anonymity a “foundation” of that right.

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