Photo: I-Spy by 56:365 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Your phone company knows where your cellphone is at all times and, if you never leave home without your cellphone, it knows where you are at all times. This data is an investigative windfall for police, and, until recently, requests to have this data produced were routine. But phone companies, no doubt realizing that privacy is a customer service issue, are pushing back.
This past summer, the Ontario Superior Court agreed to hear a case in which the police asked Rogers and Telus to release cellphone information about 40,000 to 50,000 customers as part of an investigation in the Toronto area. The orders asked the phone companies for the names and addresses of every subscriber making or attempting a communication through the specified towers. Where the connection was between two customers, the orders required billing data that could include bank and credit card information. The phone companies took the issue to court.
The police tried to withdraw the request but Justice Sproat allowed the case to proceed, stating that “the privacy rights of the tens of thousands of cell phone users is of obvious importance” and that “[c]ounsel for Rogers-Telus will be able to identify and argue charter issues that might not otherwise be evident.” The Canadian jurisprudence is in its infancy and this case will no doubt have a big impact. American courts have come to different conclusions on the question of whether people have privacy interests in their cellphone locational data and the issue is currently being litigated in the appellate courts. Stay tuned; this issue is not going away.