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Privacy of IP Address Entitled to Constitutional Protection: Canada Supreme Court

An IP address is a numeric label given to all devices connected to a computer network using Internet Protocol for communication. This serves as a distinct identification for each device, enabling it to be identified and communicate with other devices on the network. IP addresses can either be dynamic, which means they change regularly, or static, which means they are constant.

The Canadian Supreme Court has issued a definitive decision, with a narrow 5-4 margin, affirming that the nation's Constitution safeguards the privacy of Canadians' internet protocol (IP) addresses. Law enforcement agencies are now required to obtain prior judicial authorization before accessing an individual's IP address for investigative purposes, a provision enshrined in Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In her statement for the majority, Justice Karakatsanis emphasized the importance of safeguarding IP addresses in order to protect the online privacy of Canadians, as guaranteed by the charter. She argued that IP addresses have the potential to reveal a user's identity and activities, making it reasonable to expect privacy and constitutional protection against unwarranted searches.

On the other hand, the dissenting opinion, expressed by Justice C�t�, criticized the majority for overestimating the amount of information that can be obtained from IP addresses. According to the dissent, IP addresses alone do not provide enough detail to warrant privacy protection, as they do not directly lead to the identification of individuals.

Furthermore, the dissent raised doubts about the classification of IP addresses as private, citing the limited control individuals have over them. The majority countered this argument by stating that traditional criteria for evaluating privacy expectations, such as control over the subject matter, are not fully applicable in the digital world.

In addition, the majority highlighted the increasing influence of private companies in collecting and analysing user data, which enhances the government's ability to conduct surveillance. As a result, judicial oversight is crucial in limiting the state's online reach and ensuring compliance with constitutional principles.

The incident in question stemmed from the accusation made by the plaintiff that law enforcement officials had violated their constitutional rights by obtaining their IP addresses without proper authorization. Similarly, the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically through Article 8, safeguards the right to privacy and family life. In the 2018 case of Benedik v Slovenia, the European Court of Justice considered the question of whether IP addresses should be considered as personal data.

The court ultimately concluded that the legal framework allowing police access to subscriber information associated with dynamic IP addresses falls within the scope of the Convention's supervision. Additionally, it declared that the relevant laws did not adequately protect against arbitrary interference and abuse of police authority, thereby breaching the Convention.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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