01/14/2016 11:27 EST | Updated 01/14/2017 05:12 EST

Police Sweep Of Cellphone Data Violates Customers' Charter Rights, Ontario Court Rules

Sweeping the data of everyone connected to a cellphone tower amounts to an "unreasonable search," court says.


TORONTO — An Ontario court has ruled that Peel Regional Police violated cellphone customers' charter rights when requesting a broad swath of personal information from about 40,000 Telus and Rogers subscribers to help them with an investigation.

Telus and Rogers brought the Charter of Rights challenge before the court in 2014 after the police asked the companies for the cellphone information of tens of thousands of customers.

The police requested the information as part of a jewellery robbery investigation.

Officers wanted to identify people using cellphones in areas where certain criminal activity was taking place.

Police asked for customer information for all calls routed through 37 cellphone towers during specific time periods under what's known as a tower dump production order, according to court records.

Cellular towers like this one in Toronto are sometimes swept for user data by police in criminal investigations. (Getty Images)

In his decision, Judge John Sproat of the Ontario Superior Court said the information the police sought "authorized unreasonable searches" and breached the charter rights of customers.

Telus said that if it had complied with the tower dump production order, it would have had to turn over the information of at least 9,000 customers. Rogers estimated 34,000 of its customers would have been affected.

"We thought that crossed the line and was too broad and intrusive," said Jennifer Kett, a Rogers spokeswoman, in an email ahead of Sproat's decision.

Rogers' policy is to only share customer information "when required by law, or in emergencies after careful consideration of the request."

"This case did not meet the test for us," she said.

Peel Regional Police withdrew the requests, but Sproat still agreed to hear the Charter of Rights challenge, saying in July 2014 that the privacy rights of tens of thousands of cellphone users was of "obvious importance."

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