Man CA – Police can identify driver of rental car via agency

On April 15th, the Court of Appeal for Manitoba held that an accused had no reasonable expectation of privacy in information that a rental car agency provided to the police without a warrant.

The police were investigating a fatal shooting. The shooter was in a rental car that belonged to a specific agency, they knew. When the police asked, the agency identified the co-accused as the renter and the accused as an authorized driver. It also provided their cell phone numbers, drivers license numbers and credit card numbers.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision in Spencer dictates that the PIPEDA allowance for volunteering information to the police does not vitiate one’s expectation of privacy for the purpose of Charter analysis. The Court of Appeal acknowledged this, and as in Spencer, it also held that contract language allowing for the disclosure of personal information as “required or permitted by law” was “of no real assistance.”

However, the Court of Appeal distinguished Spencer on other grounds. Its decision turns on the following key factors:

  • the rental agreement allowed the agency share information with law enforcement “to take action regarding illegal activities or violations of terms of service”
  • section 22 of the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act requires agencies to keep a registry of renters that is open to public inspection (even though the registry is to include “particular’s of the [renter’s] drivers license”)
  • the overall context – i.e., that driving is a highly regulated activity, with one’s identity as an operator of a vehicle being something that is widely known and ought to be widely knowable

Privacy advocates will take issue with the Court’s reliance on the rental agreement term, though the case does rest on two other significant factors, including a provision of Manitoba law that the accused did not challenge. On a quick look, I see that Saskatchewan has the same provision.

R v Telfer, 2021 MBCA 38 (CanLII).