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Supreme Court of Canada ruling  The IP address must be protected from inappropriate mining

Supreme Court of Canada ruling The IP address must be protected from inappropriate mining

(Ottawa) The Supreme Court of Canada said police need a warrant to obtain a computer's IP address because that identification number forms a “critical link between an Internet user and their online activity,” and it is a search.

The country's highest court issued a closely split, five-to-four decision on Friday in a case that began in 2017, when Calgary police were investigating fraudulent online transactions at a liquor store.

The liquor store's third-party payment processing company voluntarily turned over two IP addresses — “digital identifiers” assigned by an Internet service provider — to police.

Police subsequently obtained a court order requiring the ISP to disclose the names and addresses of customers associated with these IP addresses.

Police eventually obtained search warrants for two homes, leading to the arrest of Andrei Bykovits, who was later convicted on multiple charges.

The trial judge rejected the argument that the police request for IP addresses violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” It concluded that an Internet user does not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in relation to their IP address.

The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the decision, but by a majority of two justices to one, prompting Mr. Pekovits to take his case to the country's highest court.

In its majority ruling, the Supreme Court accepted Mr. Pekovits' appeal, vacated the convictions and ordered a new trial.

Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, who wrote the majority ruling, explains that an IP address is “the key that provides access to a user’s online activity and, ultimately, to his or her identity.” Such an address therefore “gives rise to a reasonable expectation of respect for private life” and “a request for a state-provided IP address constitutes a search” within the meaning of the Charter.

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She wrote that IP addresses are not just meaningless numbers. As a nexus that connects Internet activity to a specific location, it can betray deeply personal information, including the identity of a device user, without the need for a search warrant.

So Justice Karakatsanis concluded that if the Charter provision prohibiting unreasonable searches “must substantially protect Canadians’ online privacy in today’s largely digital world,” then it must also protect their IP addresses.