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Canadian Supreme Court rules internet anonymity is key to privacy


Congratulations, citizens of Canada, it's your God-given right to travail the internet as UrTheWurst420 hurling sexually graphic insults at children singing pop songs on YouTube. And, unless the police get a warrant, they won't be able to tie that account to your actual identity. In a landmark ruling the Supreme Court of Canada found that online anonymity is a vital component of personal privacy. The ruling came down following the case of Matthew Spencer, who was tried and convicted for possessing child pornography in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Law enforcement asked Shaw Communications for information on a particular user, including the name and address on the account, which would now require a search warrant to obtain. The evidence in this particular case was allowed to stand as the court said police believed they were acting lawfully, but future requests for information would have to go through the courts first.

The decision written by Justice Thomas Cromwell "falls short of recognizing any 'right' to anonymity," but recognizes the clear "privacy interest in anonymity depending on the circumstances." And therein lies the crux of the matter. It's reasonable to expect your privacy be maintained online, and your anonymity in many cases is central to that perceived privacy. Only with probable cause should that veil of privacy be lifted according to the court.

Law enforcement and conservatives in the government are upset with the ruling. By enshrining online anonymity as a core component of privacy tracking criminals or terrorists becomes slightly more difficult, thanks to additional bureaucracy. However, privacy advocates have applauded the decision. A guarantee of anonymity encourages free speech, dissenting political views and whistle blowers.

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