Undercover police officers do not need to obtain a judicial warrant before using e-mail or instant-message services to communicate with someone suspected of child luring, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.
The high court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills, a Newfoundland man who was convicted of internet luring after a police officer posed online as a 14-year-old girl named “Leann.”
The constable created an e-mail account and Facebook page for the fictitious girl in 2012 to see if people online were preying on underage children.
The officer received a Facebook message from Mills, who was 32, leading to an exchange of emails that turned sexual.
Police used a screenshot program to capture and record copies of the communications, but they did not have a court-approved warrant.
Mills was arrested in a St. John’s park where he had arranged to meet the girl.
Mills argued that police should have obtained a warrant and that use of the screen-capture software violated his Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee against unreasonable search or seizure.
A majority of the Supreme Court judges who heard the case concluded that adults cannot reasonably expect privacy online with children they do not know.
Justice Russell Brown wrote on behalf of the majority that in most cases police are unlikely to know in advance of any potential privacy breach – for example, whether the child is truly a stranger to the adult.
“Here, the police were using an investigative technique allowing it to know from the outset that the adult was conversing with a child who was a stranger.”
Brown was careful to note the particular circumstances of the case and stressed that the court was not suggesting police could simply monitor communications in the hope of stumbling upon a conversation that reveals criminality.
“With respect, the alias-based sting operation employed here is not some first step to a dystopian world of mass unregulated surveillance.”