R. v. TELUS Communications Co., 2013 SCC 16

The telecommunications carrier, Telus, kept a backup of all text messages sent over its wireless network, potentially allowing customers to recover messages which had been accidentally deleted. Police had obtained a general warrant to access this database for the purpose of an investigation involving two Telus subscriber. Telus applied to quash the warrant, arguing that it is unlawful to intercept a private communication without specific wiretap authorization under Section VI of the Criminal Code.

The issue before the Supreme Court of Canada was whether text messaging constitutes a “private communication” within the meaning of the Criminal Code.

A majority of the panel found that the use of new technology as a means of communication should not diminish the reasonable expectation of privacy enjoyed by citizens:

“Text messaging is, in essence, an electronic conversation. Technical differences inherent in new technology should not determine the scope of protection afforded to private communications. The only practical difference between text messaging and traditional voice communications is the transmission process. This distinction should not take text messages outside the protection to which private communications are entitled under Part VI.”

By taking this case all the way to Canada’s highest court, Telus demonstrated an admirable commitment to the privacy rights of its customers, and helped to extend Section 8 Charter rights into the realm of modern technology.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on March 27, 2013.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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