Friday, July 08, 2011

Saskatchewan court considers lawful authority

The Provincial Court of Saskatchewan has just ruled that a police officer in the midst of a drug investigation has "lawful authority" to ask for and receive information about a customer of a car rental company, including the customer's contract and photocopy of the renters' drivers license. The Court held that Section 7(3) of PIPEDA was satisfied by the request and that Budget Rent A Car was able to hand over the info in the absence of a production order.

See: R v Siemens, 2011 SKPC 57

[51] Lastly, I am not satisfied that the information contained in the Budget Rent-a-Car contract or attached documents exposed any intimate details about the accused’s lifestyle or information of a biographic nature. The information in the contract included the accused’s name and Mastercard number. It also included a copy of the accused’s driver’s license which provided a photo of the accused, his driver’s license number, his address, his height, weight, eye and hair colour, sex, birthdate, issue date, expiry date, class, endorsements and restrictions.

[52] A lot of this information is personal to the accused but it does not reveal intimate details of his lifestyle or his personal choices. In today’s world we have become increasingly dependent on the Internet and technology. Some of the information such as name and address are readily available on the Internet or in a phone book. I heard no evidence that the accused went to any lengths to keep this information out of a phone book or off the cyber highway. People use credit and debit cards to purchase things or make payments. A driver’s license gives an individual the privilege to drive a vehicle and it has become a very common form of identification. Indeed, it is one of only a handful of acceptable identification when it comes to purchasing alcohol or cigarettes, travelling on an airplane within Canada, when cashing a cheque, when picking up merchandise already paid for, among other things. It is also used by retailers to deter and detect fraud. All provinces in Canada have given police the right to request a driver’s license from someone driving a vehicle to verify the identity of the person driving to ensure that they are legally driving. Barring evidence to the contrary about a particular person, such reliance on driver’s license and technology reduces the expectation of privacy that that person can expect in the information contained in these things.

[53] It is also significant to note that the disclosure of this information did not lead to the police obtaining more intimate details of the accused’s lifestyle or choices such as sexual orientation, religion or personal likes or dislikes. The only thing the information revealed was that Lindsay Siemens had a driver’s license and a credit card and rented the red Cobalt that the police saw meet with Ms. Holmes and Mr. Soare in Rosedale, Alberta. It was only after the police did further investigation that they satisfied themselves that Mr. Siemens was the person who met with Ms. Holmes and Mr. Soare and that he was involved in the drug trade.

[54] Taking into account the nature of the information in question, the fact that PIPEDA was complied with the lawful authority of Constable Hicks to request the information pursuant to section 47.014(1) and Phelps Leasing’s right, in accordance with its contractual arrangement with the accused to disclose the information to a police officer engaged an active investigation, the accused did not have an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in this information.

In the end, the court found the information was not unlawfully obtained, was not an unreasonable invasion of privacy and therefore did not offend Section 8 of the Charter.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Ugh. Terrible decision in at least three respects:

1. The fact that the police could have gotten a warrant, but chose not to, should indicate *in favour* of a privacy violation, not against it.

2. "Lawful authority" has to mean more than "I'm investigating a crime". Otherwise we don't need warrants at all anymore.

3. Revealing someone's identity is revealing intimate biographical details about them. I don't get why judges refuse to see that.