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Canadian Supreme Court Requires Warrants for IP Address Searches

Client Updates / Apr 01, 2024

Written by: Haim Ravia and Dotan Hammer

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that police must obtain a warrant or court order before accessing the numbers constituting a person or organization’s IP address. The court has held that an IP address, without further personal information, is protected by an expectation of privacy under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court’s majority ruled that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy associated with the numerical sequence of an IP address and that acquiring these numbers in themselves constitutes a search. The majority reasoned that an IP address is a crucial link between an internet user and their online activities, emphasizing that the search involving IP addresses could ultimately reveal the identities of internet users.

The decision was delivered on a 2017 case in which the Calgary Police investigated an individual later convicted of 14 counts of online fraud related to purchases from a liquor store. Absent a proper warrant, the police requested that the payment company, which the liquor store used, turn over the IP addresses linked to the transactions.

The police later obtained the account details associated with those addresses from the internet service provider, this time with a judicial order. One of the accounts was linked to the defendant, and the other to his father. A subsequent search at the defendant’s home led to his arrest on fraud charges. At trial, the defendant argued that the search was unreasonable and violated his rights, a claim rejected by two lower courts.

The Supreme Court of Canada ultimately decided that police must obtain judicial authorization before seeking IP addresses and that the requirement for judicial approval is not excessively burdensome.

Click here to read the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.