When privacy is inconvenient

The CBC is reporting [s]earch warrants for child porn too slow, say RCMP:

Const. Blair Ross, who works on child pornography cases on P.E.I., told CBC News Tuesday RCMP are short-staffed already, and getting a search warrant can take days or even weeks.
“As it stands here now in Atlantic Canada, the internet providers will not provide that unless we obtain judicial authorization, in other words, a warrant,” said Ross.
“So before we even begin to investigate we have that hurdle to jump over, which is time consuming.”

The RCMP should be ashamed of this stance: while privacy can never be absolute, it should be really hard to compromise our privacy. That’s why we have judges to mediate the process.

For the record, Eastlink has a Legal Information page with a link to their privacy policy, where they say, in part:

While our general policy is not to provide personal information to any party outside of EastLink without your consent, there are certain limited circumstances in which it is necessary to do so. When we provide personal information to third parties, we provide only that information that is required in the circumstances. In turn, information provided to third parties is used only for the purposes stipulated and is subject to strict terms of confidentiality.

They then go on to list those bodies that might qualify, and this includes “law enforcement agencies,” “investigative bodies and legal counsel,” and “emergency services.”

While kudos should go to Eastlink to resisting the RCMP’s request for warrantless access to private information, it’s foreboding to read their representative quoted as suggesting that they’re not 100% committed to this:

“We’re not necessarily opposed to seeing things move in that direction,” said Sibley.
“However, with the existing legislation that’s in place, and also privacy legislation that we have to operate under, we’ve chosen to continue to ask for a warrant.”


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous on April 2, 2008 - 14:53 Permalink

The interesting question is — why are there apparently ISPs who will give them the information without a warrant? We should be asking our ISPs this question and switching our provider if they don’t respect privacy.

Marian's picture
Marian on April 2, 2008 - 16:53 Permalink

Power to the people! Or er, right on man! Or something like that.

An Observer's picture
An Observer on April 2, 2008 - 17:17 Permalink

We should also pay close attention to what the actual issue is: “…RCMP are short-staffed already, and getting a search warrant can take days or even weeks.” The problem, therefore, is not that the warrant takes a long time to get, but that the RCMP claim they don’t have enough staff to prepare the required documentation. Once the proper documnetation is in place, getting the actual warrant takes minutes, not weeks. To argue that the RCMP should be able to skip all the usual steps (eg protections) because they don’t have enough people to prepare paperwork is as dangerous as it is foolish.

If child porn is as serious an issue as claimed (and of course it is), then the answer is to dedicate the staff and resources required to get the warrants. Don’t scuttle basic privacy rights and do away with the warrant requirement simply because the police/state can’t get it’s staffing priorities straight — why would we ever choose to reward such an organizational failing with ” hey, ok, just skip all that privacy and due process nuisance” ? It is the slipperiest of slippery slopes.

Al's picture
Al on April 3, 2008 - 08:24 Permalink

It’s pretty telling that it didn’t even occur to the RCMP that maybe it would be a good idea to at least pretend to the public taht they respect Canadians’ constitutional rights.

Jonathan's picture
Jonathan on April 5, 2008 - 18:55 Permalink

I too found it sad to hear that the RCMP might actually have to work to prove (or disprove) a suspicion. Sigh. What is the world coming to?
(That was written in sarcasm for those who don’t automatically see it).

Bond, James Bond's picture
Bond, James Bond on April 6, 2008 - 04:44 Permalink