On February 14, 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark decision in R v Jarvis with its interpretation of the meaning of “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the context of section 162(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada involving a criminal offence of voyeurism.
The task of picking up the phone, dialing and anticipating a “hello” on the other end can be daunting for many people. Text messaging, compared to phone calls, has dominated the way we communicate with one another over the years. With the abundance of text messages exchanged between people, there stems an important question with respect to privacy. That is, is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in a text message once it has been sent and received by the intended recipient? The Ontario Court of Appeal recently concluded that there is not. Thereby ruling that text messages seized from a recipient's phone can be used against the sender in court.
People love their phones. Phones now accompany us pretty much wherever we go, whatever we do. People use their phones in church, in restaurants, at the theatre, and, apparently, while committing crimes. And our phones are leaving a trail behind us.
Police know this. They also know that records are created every time our phones connect to cell towers to send and receive calls, SMS messages, or data. Every one of those records indicates that a phone (and, implicitly, the person carrying it) was in range of a particular cell tower, at a particular time.
This could be useful information if, say, one wanted to identify the person (or people) responsible for a string of jewelry store robberies.
The method will be familiar to many from movies and T.V. shows: all you need to do is to gather a list of every single person who was near each of the locations of interest at the time of interest and analyze the patterns. And, hey, that cell tower data can provide that list….
But is it legal?