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Supreme Court Rules, Warrant Needed For Police To Access People’s IP Addresses

The latest ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada demonstrates the privacy associated with the IP address as well as an almost divided opinion on what should be protected under as part of personal privacy.


An IP (Internet Protocol) address is one of the most important components of a computer network and internet. This specific type of information provides a unique identifier which helps in determining the services it should enjoy. ISP (Internet Service Providers) and online companies use this information to determine if a specific type of service is a possibility. Among other things, an IP address could provide a general idea of the users’ location.


Because of the possibility of revealing a person’s location based on an IP address, a recent ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada according to CBC will now require law enforcement to seek a warrant due to privacy concerns.


A Majority Split Decision for IP Address Privacy


The decision to require a warrant of arrest to determine the location of the IP address was won by majority - but a very slim one. A 5-4 decision in favor of requiring a warrant won as it determined that the IP address serves as a “crucial link” to the actual person behind the online activity. 


On the other hand, judges who argue that an IP address is not covered by privacy because an IP address, as it stands, does not necessarily offer a specific data related to the person. Tracking down the IP address will only lead to the associated ISP and if there are activities related to the IP address, law enforcers are still burdened to associate the specific IP address to the actual individual.


Although a warrant will require an IP address, it is not a complete privacy by itself. The Supreme Court of Canada also noted that a “reasonable expectation” of the IP addresses, privacy. This is the reason why a warrant will be required to determine its reason of use and possibly prevent it from abuse.


The Challenge of Dynamic and Static IP Addresses


The argument against the privacy of an IP address also highlights the two types of IP addresses offered by ISPs: Dynamic and Static. As the name suggests, dynamic IP addresses change from time to time especially when a subscriber reconnects to the internet. A static IP address on the other hand, stays the same and they are often offered to businesses and large companies for stability.


Consumers are often on dynamic IP addresses and law enforcement will have to work extra hard to make sure that an IP address, on that specific moment, is actually tied up to the individual they suspect of doing an illegal activity.


Reactions to Privacy Ruling


As expected, reactions to the privacy ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada varies depending on the ultimate goal. Privacy advocates applaud the latest ruling because it provides an extra layer of security to everyone because their online activity will remain private unless a warrant is required.


On the other hand, law enforces are on a bind because it will require an extra requirement before anything could be done legally against wrong doers. A swift action against online predators and scammers could be in peril with this extra step as mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada.

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