Electronic Devices at Borders – Some Progress?

August 15, 2019 Natalia R. Angelini Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Uncategorized Tags: , , 0 Comments

When we last blogged here on the issue of electronic devices at borders, a Toronto lawyer, Nick Wright, had had his phone and laptop seized by custom officials after he refused to provide password access because solicitor-client privileged information was on the devices.

The authority under which such searches are taking place is the Customs Act, by which courts have previously interpreted “goods” as including cellphones. However, the case law is dated, and there has yet to be a constitutional ruling on the issue.

This may soon change, as Mr. Wright has, together with another lawyer, taken the matter further by applying to the Federal Court seeking a result that would reportedly include declarations that (i) searches on electronic devices without probable cause or search warrant are a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and (ii) searching lawyer-client privileged material similarly constitutes a Charter breach.

The significance of the issue is stressed in the following reported statement of Mr. Wright:

“Solicitor-client privilege is . . . of the utmost importance in the free and democratic society and a fundamental principle of justice, and it’s for the benefit of clients, so individuals,” he says. “In an adversarial system like we have, it’s important that the public be able to consult with their lawyers, in order to participate in the legal process and to have the federal government thieving solicitor-client privilege information undermines our legal system and undermines the adversarial process.”

Until the case is determined, lawyers should assume that information covered by solicitor-client privilege is not protected from search at a border. Accordingly, further to the suggestion of the Canadian Bar Association, using cloud technology and erasing all privileged information from devices is the safest course of action.

We will be keeping an eye on this litigation, and hope to see an updated and meaningful pronouncement on the issue of a reasonable expectation of privacy for lawyers at the border.

Thanks for reading,
Natalia Angelini

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