A recent Canadian Court ruling found that, following an arrest, a detainee’s right to obtain counsel allows for the use of the Internet to find a viable attorney. This is an interesting case, and it shows how, slowly but surely, global courts might just be accepting the widespread growth of technology, and are moving along with the times.  

As Michael Geist reports, after 19 year-old Christopher McKay was arrested for driving under the influence, he placed a series of calls from the police station to secure legal representation. Since his phone attempts proved unsuccessful, he requested access to a “viable search engine” instead. He referenced Google, rather than directory assistance (411) as his “main method to search for information.”

In response to this incident, the Judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta deliberated on “whether Internet access should form part of police resources provided to detainees in order to facilitate a reasonable opportunity to exercise the constitutional right to counsel.” Recognizing the wide use of phones, iPads, and devices – including those by law enforcement itself – she supported McKay’s assertion that Google serves as the primary source for extracting information today, including the search for lawyers.

Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right “to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right” to all those arrested or detained, the Court concluded:

“In the year 2013 it is the Court’s view that all police stations must be equipped with Internet access and detainees must have the same opportunities to access the Internet to find a lawyer as they do to access the telephone book to find a lawyer.”

Bottom line: you now have the ‘right to Google’ if ever detained in Canada. This ruling reminded us of one of favorite recent stories – that of Neff, where a U.S. judge determined that a detainee’s Constitutional right to a fair trial included the right to additional hours conducting discovery in the prison law library (but not a personal laptop). And don’t forget the German ruling that the Internet is a fundamental right. Bit by bit (no computer pun intended), digital things are moving in the right digital direction.