Data on a hard drive is not equal to the same material stored in a filing cabinet, according to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In a complex ruling on the case of a British Columbia man convicted of growing marijuana, the court determined that a search of his computer violated his Section 8 rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Thanh Long Vu of Langley still faces additional prosecution – because the high court decided to admit evidence obtained through illegal search – but the ruling established what the Canadian Bar Association's journal called “a marker (in the ground) for digital privacy law in Canada.”
Vu's lawyer, Neil Cobb, succeeded in convincing the justices that computers are “stand-alone places” that require specific search warrants.
While Vu's future now rests with provincial authorities in British Columbia, the Supreme Court will soon hear another landmark case – involving a cell phone search – that legal experts predict will help define digital rights in Canada.