Case Report – Propriety of border crossing laptop search affirmed on appeal

Yesterday, the Ninth United States Circuit Court of Appeals overturned much-discussed order to suppress evidence obtained in a border crossing laptop search.

The case involves a traveller named Michael Arnold, who was routinely selected for secondary questioning after returning from a three week vacation in the Philippines. A border agent turned on Arnold’s computer and discovered photos of two nude women in folders on his desktop.  She called in other officials, who then questioned Arnold and examined his computer some more, and ultimately seized the computer after finding what they believed was child pornography.  Based on these facts, in 2006 a district court judge granted Arnold’s motion to suppress on a finding that there was no reasonable suspicion for the search.

The appeal from the lower court’s order centered on whether the Fourth Amendment requires the United States government to meet a “reasonable suspicion” standard in conducting border crossing laptop searches because laptops are different than other closed containers.  The Court’s description of Arnold’s argument nicely highlights its significance:

Arnold argues that “laptop computers are fundamentally different from traditional closed containers,” and analogizes them to “homes” and the “human mind.” Arnold’s analogy of a laptop to a home is based on his conclusion that a laptop’s capacity allows for the storage of personal documents in an amount equivalent to that stored in one’s home. He argues that a laptop is like the “human mind” because of its ability to record ideas, e-mail, internet chats and web-surfing habits.

This was similar to an argument rejected by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2006 border crossing laptop search case called Ickes and reserved on by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2006 border crossing laptop search case called Romm

In Arnold’s case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals flatly rejected the laptop argument as contrary to United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, which it read as weighing against any analysis that would differentiate between the types of property searched at border crossings.  In short, it held that property is property. It also held that Arnold had not adduced any evidence to support a finding that the search fit within the “exceptional damage to property” or “particularly offensive manner” exceptions to the United States government’s broad power to search property at its borders. reports that an appeal may be in order.

United States v. Arnold, 08 C.D.O.S. 4533.




Case Report – SCC says no power to order costs of production order

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously held that the Criminal Code‘s production order scheme does not allow a court to order that the police compensate a third party for the costs of compliance with a production order.

In 2004, the federal government passed Bill C-45, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (capital markets fraud and evidence gathering). The Act created a new investigative tool called a “production order” by which third-parties may be required to produce documents, produce data or even prepare documents (based on existing data) for production. A production order is meant to be an easier-to-administer alterative to search warrants. The Department of Justice backgrounder on the Bill also says production orders are privacy-protective because they do not involve the fishing that’s associated with the execution of a search warrant.

The Court held that costs could not be ordered based on a reading of the statutory text in light of the relevant legislative history and the recognized social duty of citizens to assist in the administration of justice. It noted that the Department of Justice and the telecommunications industry had a dialogue before Bill C-45 was promulgated in which industry members requested an express jurisdiction to order costs.

The Court also held that standard for am exemption based on “unreasonable” burden should not be altered by establishing alternative criteria such as “undue hardship.” It held that reasonableness in the entire circumstances was a justiciable standard, noting that parties who are subject to frequent production orders may raise this fact as a relevant circumstance.

Tele-Mobile Company v. Ontario, 2008 SCC 12.

Case Report – Rise of citizen journalism does not devalue work of professional journalists…

…but law enforcement trumps all.

Yesterday, the Ontario Court of Appeal restored a search warrant and assistance order that was served on the National Post. Unless the order is stayed pending an appeal, it will require the Post’s editor-in-chief to provide the RCMP with document and envelope received from a confidential informant. The RCMP believes the document and envelope will contain evidence that could identify a person who committed a criminal conspiracy against former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

In 2001, Andrew McIntosh from the Post received a document that appeared to be a Business Development Bank of Canada loan authorization for a $600,000 loan to the Auberge Grand-Mere. The document listed a $23,000 debt to “JAC Consultants,” a Chretien holding company. The auberge was in Mr. Chretien’s home riding, and he had previously admitted to contacting the BDB’s president to urge him to approve the loan.

McIntosh circulated copies of the document to the BDBC, to the Prime Minister’s Office and to Mr. Chretien personally the course of his investigation. Based on a comparison between its file copy of the document and what McIntosh provided, the BDBC complained to the RCMP that the document was a forgery. As part of its investigation, the RCMP sought the document and envelope. Although the allegedly forged communication had been widely distributed, it believed that document and envelope might contain fingerprints and DNA that would help it identity the sender. The RCMP obtained a search warrant and an assistance order that became the matter of the appeal. The Post resisted because McIntosh had promised anonymity to his informant (who simply passed the documents to him) and (so it appears) because he questioned the whether the disclosure would actually help the RCMP’s pursuit of the wrongdoer.

The Court of Appeal award turned on an analysis of the fourth “Wigmore criterion” – the final criterion for recognition of a case-by-case privilege, which asks whether the injury to the relationship between the parties to the communication that would flow from the disclosure is greater than the benefit gained from the correct disposal of the litigation. The Court held that it was appropriate to simply assess the Post’s Charter claim based on the Wigmore analysis because it required the same balancing of interests required by section 2(b) of the Charter.

The Court held that the judge who reviewed the search warrant erred in finding that balance weighed in favour of finding that the envelope and document were privileged because she wrongly inferred that there was only a speculative possibility that the documents would advance the investigation and wrongly disregarded the law enforcement interest at stake. In its reasoning, the Court held that an investigative journalist cannot insulate a potential wrongdoer from a law enforcement investigation by giving an absolute promise of confidentiality because this would lead to law enforcement’s role (and the court’s oversight of its role) being usurped:

McIntosh himself recognized that there must be at least some limits on the press’ entitlement to protect the confidentiality of its sources. That is why he told X that his promise of confidentiality would remain binding only so long as he believed that he was not being misled. However, once the court concluded that there were reasonable and probable grounds to believe the document was a forgery, McIntosh could not arrogate to himself the right to decide whether X was a wrongdoer.

Notably, the court rejected an argument that must have gotten the Post and the other participating media organizations backs’ up. The Crown had argued that citizen journalism was reason not to treat the journalist-source relationship as one which should be “sedulously fostered” under the third Wigmore criterion. The Court said:

We reject the Crown’s first contention. The case-by-case approach to privilege does not require us to establish the boundaries of legitimate journalism. The National Post is a recognized national news organization and McIntosh is a respected journalist. It can hardly be disputed that they fall within the class of persons who may be entitled to the benefit of journalist-confidential source privilege.

This comment is likely more interesting than significant, but the court’s Wigmore analysis goes more to the fundamental role of investigative journalists under the Charter. Members of the Fourth Estate are fierce defenders of this role, so we’ll see if they try for an appeal.

R. v. National Post, 2008 ONCA 139.

Case Report – NSCA says “Crown” must be implicated in search to be liable for costs

On January 18, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal issued a significant judgement on Crown liability for costs on an application to quash a search warrant.

The Court held that the Crown in Right of Canada ought not to be liable for costs of on an application to quash an “ill-conceived and poorly executed” search warrant obtained and executed by the Canada Revenue Agency. It reached this conclusion because a Crown Attorney was not involved in the impugned investigation but, rather, had simply responded to the application to quash.

The Court also said that it did not matter the CRA is a deemed agent of the Crown under the Canada Revenue Agency Act because the basis for an award of costs is rooted in the special role of the Crown as prosecutor:

The basis of this general rule is not that the prosecutor might be an agent of the Crown and that an investigator might not be. The general rule is not based on the law of agency, but on strong reasons of public policy which I have already described, and which have been set out in the cases on many occasions: see, for example, Foster, supra at ¶ 62-65; and Ciarniello, supra, at ¶ 31-36. Whether by virtue of ss. 4(2) of the CRAA, the investigator here was or was not an agent of the Crown (a point I need not decide) does not change the general legal principle applicable to costs against the Crown in criminal matters.

The underlying facts involved a search based on a flawed Information and in which the CRA had seized records subject to solicitor-client privilege contained on computer and electronic storage devices.

R. v. Taylor, 2008 NSCA 5.

Government ordered to return electronic records seized under warrant

On December 11th, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found the Ministry of Labour violated Booth Centennial Healthcare Linen Services’ section 8 Charter rights and ordered it to return electronic records seized under an extremely broad search warrant. Mr. Justice Corbett’s order states, “The search and seizure of electronic records in this case was grossly overbroad, in the circumstances. There was no evidence before me of the practicality of an on-site search for electronic records, an approach that, as a matter of common sense, ought to be possible in a case like this.” We expect supplementary reasons to be issued in January.