Paper Summary: The Legacy of Regina v. Vu, 2013 SCC 60

Search Warrants (2015/2016)

There are few personal objects that attract more inherent privacy rights than personal computers. In today’s blog, learn more about The Legacy of Regina v. Vu, 2013 SCC 60: An Assessment of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Foray into the Area of Privacy Rights Inherent in Personal Computer Devices by Neil Cobb.

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Personal computers have an increasing capacity to store immense amounts of intensively private information, which regularly penetrates the biographical core of a user. Computers are also fastidious record keepers, generating and retaining information relating to our browsing histories, often even after user-directed deletion is attempted.

Perhaps most impactful on one’s privacy interests is the fact that a computer serves as a gateway to a repository for an almost unlimited amount of information, information that is not even physically located on the hard drive of the computer but rather in the cloud.

As technology has evolved so too has the ability for personal computer devices to capture, retain, and generate voluminous amounts of highly sensitive personal information. Accordingly, Canadian courts have recognized in their jurisprudence that computers occupy a unique place within an individual’s protected privacy sphere.

The purpose of this paper by Neil Cobb is three-fold. First, it aims to provide an outline of the more salient privacy-related aspects of the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent computer-privacy jurisprudence up to, and including, the seminal decision of R v Vu, 2013 SCC 60, [2013] 3 SCR 657 [Vu].

Topics covered include:

  • the parameters of computer searches and the manner in which they must be carried out, including the emerging duty for contemporaneous note-taking;
  • what qualifies as a computer;
  • when warrants are required and what specific type; and
  • the relevance of a personal electronic device having internet accessibility.

Second, this paper identifies and discusses some post-Vu judgments in the realm of computer privacy that counsel in Alberta should be cognizant of. Areas addressed include the common law power of search incidental to arrest of computers and recent jurisprudence surrounding new quasi-computer devices, such as Sensing Diagnostic Modules found in modern motor vehicles, and whether or not they attract a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Finally, this paper concludes by highlighting, from a more practical perspective, some of the challenges faced by counsel when dealing with these evolving technological issues and the relevant considerations they mandate.

Want to learn more? Click here to view some sample pages from this paper.

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