Congratulations, citizens of Canada, it’s your God-given right to travail the internet as UrTheWurst420 hurling sexually graphic insults at children singing pop songs on YouTube. And, unless the police get a warrant, they won’t be able to tie that account to your actual identity. In a landmark ruling the Supreme Court of Canada found that online anonymity is a vital component of personal privacy. The ruling came down following the case of Matthew Spencer, who was tried and convicted for possessing child pornography in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Law enforcement asked Shaw Communications for information on a particular user, including the name and address on the account, which would now require a search warrant to obtain.
Internet users in Canada should expect a reasonable degree of anonymity online, and telecommunications companies cannot hand over their private information to law-enforcement agencies without a court order, Canada’s top court ruled Friday. The unanimous 8-0 ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada was hailed as a seminal decision by the country’s privacy watchdog. But it could have broad implications for how police investigate cases ranging from drug trafficking to terrorism. The case began over the means by which police in Saskatchewan obtained information during an investigation into possession of child pornography. The Supreme Court said police in the western province acted unlawfully when they sought and received personal information from an Internet service provider about a suspect without a judge’s permission. Those actions violated the Internet user’s privacy rights, the court said. “Some degree of anonymity is a feature of much Internet activity and depending on the totality of the circumstances, anonymity may be the foundation of a privacy interest that engages constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure,” the court said in its written decision.