Do Canadian cops need warrants for GPS tracking?

In the U.S. police can even buy a monthly subscription to customers’ tracking data

The American Civil Liberties Union recently shocked Americans with news that dozens of police departments across the country were tracking suspects through the GPS chips in their phones without any court oversight. American cell providers such as AT&T and Sprint were routinely handing over real-time location data of their own customers to police, without requiring warrants. Sprint even created an easy-to-use web portal to automate the process, and provided police with a private data price-list. For example, $30 buys police a month of realtime location tracking data on a suspect. The ACLU’s findings also uncovered indiscriminate GPS dragnets–the police could buy info from cell carriers that allowed them to identify every individual found nearby a certain cell tower. There seems to be no consensus and few precedents in American law on the legality of such methods, and police are making the most of this murkiness.

So is it happening in Canada, too?

In a word, no. I asked Bell, Telus and Rogers what their policies are when police request a customer’s GPS data. Here’s what they told me:

Bell spokesperson Marie-Eve Francoeur :

“We only provide GPS information to law enforcement agencies without a warrant when there is a clear reason to believe a life may be in immediate danger, for example an attempted suicide, abduction, or a missing person. Under any other circumstances we require a warrant or a court order. In either case, law enforcement agencies work with a single office within Bell to manage their requests and we don’t charge for the service. Of course, under CRTC regulations all carriers provide, when possible, information on location for calls to 911, to assist emergency services to locate individuals in need of assistance.”

Telus spokesperson Jim Johannsson:

“There are 2 ways that location information can be provided to police:

1.     If a customer makes a call to 911 we will forward all available location data to the appropriate PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) who will then provide it to the appropriate emergency responder (e.g. police, fire, ambulance).

2.     If a law enforcement agency requests location data for a specific handset at a certain date/time they must make that request via a “production order authorized by the Court.”  We are generally only able to provide cell site or triangulation data for these types of requests because our network is not designed to collect and store GPS location data except for 911 calls (as you can imagine that would be a massive amount of data to collect and store).”

Rogers’ spokesperson Carly Suppa:

“Rogers policy is to provide law enforcement agencies with information only when requested through proper channels. Our policy is to require a warrant.”

Good to know.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

 




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Do Canadian cops need warrants for GPS tracking?

  1. I’m a bit worried about the Rogers comment.  Because of the 911 calls, which I expect they give locations the same as everyone else, I think some information is missing.  And then of course I wonder what else isn’t captured under “our policy is”.

  2. Official policy and actual practice are often two quite different things.

  3. Bill C-30, in its present form, specifies that the government will provide or pay for all the necessary equipment to track and store this information for a year. No worries there for the ISPs.

  4. Is it not true that you can turn off the GPS on your cell phone.  That should alleviate the fears of those who believe the police will be tracking them without a warrant.  Of course if you find yourself choking to death alone and you call 911 on your cell phone, you will likely die as they will not be able to track your wherabouts…however, your won’t have to worry that the phone company is crapping on your civil liberties.

    • I suspect that it can be remotely turned on.

  5. my kids found a phone at school and the cops came searching for it they actually went to my neighbours house and accused them of stealing the phone, they are oriental and barely speak english with a 3 & 6  year old at home they got = interrogated.

    the cops should definitely need a warrant 

    • my kids “found” a phone at school…
      That’s great ! I love it when kids “find” phones just lying around… and funny how it ended up at your house and not at the office or lost and found…

  6. Thanks for finding out about this.

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