The protection of privacy has prevailed in a landmark decision about whether the Peel Regional Police violated the Charter rights of Rogers and Telus customers in requesting cell tower records as part of an investigation into a jewelry robbery.  This type of order is known as a “tower dump”. The records would have disclosed personal information of over 40,000 cell phone users in the area where the crime took place.

Justice Sproat of the Ontario Superior Court found that the demand for disclosure of personal information was “far beyond what was reasonably necessary to gather evidence concerning the commission of the crimes under investigation” and was a breach of the customers’ Charter rights.

He recognized the need for this type of electronic evidence in investigations, but was clear that the intrusion on personal privacy in the production orders should be minimized. “Production orders must be tailored to respect the privacy interests of subscribers and conform with constitutional requirements”.  He goes on to provide guidelines for requesting and issuing orders for cellphone records.

From an information perspective, Justice Sproat was candid about the risks associated with the police collecting masses of personal information in investigations: “It is not tenable to reason that since only the police will be in possession of this information any sensitive information will never see the light of day. One needs only read a daily newspaper to be aware of the fact that governments and large corporations, are frequently “hacked” resulting in confidential information being stolen and sometimes posted on-line.”

This statement by the Court should be taken as a warning.  All information is at risk of a breach.  Your information gathering and storage practices should take this into account.  If you are storing unnecessary personal information, expect to be treated harshly if it is compromised.