Pubdate: Mon, 29 Nov 2010
Source: Simcoe Reformer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 Sun Media
Author: Alan Shanoff
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)


Chalk up another victory in the war against drugs.

Last week our highest court ruled the use of electricity-consumption 
data from a Calgary power supplier obtained without a search warrant 
did not constitute a violation of the Charter privacy right to be 
free from unreasonable searches.

The immediate result of this ruling is the conviction of Daniel James 
Gomboc of Calgary on charges of producing marijuana and possession of 
marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Police suspected a grow-op in Gomboc's home after receiving an 
anonymous tip, speaking with neighbours, and conducting surveillance 
of the house. Thinking they didn't have enough evidence to obtain a 
search warrant, police sought information from the local electricity 
supplier, Enmax. They received information showing cyclical patterns 
of electricity use indicative of a grow-op of some sort.

Armed with this information, police sought and obtained a search 
warrant permitting the search of Gomboc's home -- which in turn led 
to the seizure of 165 kg of bulk marijuana and 206 grams of processed 

The question for the Supreme Court of Canada was simple: Should 
police have obtained prior judicial authorization allowing it to 
obtain data on Gomboc's energy consumption. The answer to this 
question turns on whether there is a reasonable expectation of 
privacy in relation to the consumption data. The Supremes ruled 7-2 
there was no reasonable expectation of privacy, but they came to this 
conclusion in an odd fashion.

Four judges ruled there could be no reasonable expectation of 
privacy, as the consumption data does not reveal any "intimate 
details of the lifestyle and personal choices" of any occupant and 
Gomboc didn't tell Enmax he wanted his consumption data kept private.

Three judges based their ruling solely on the fact that Gomboc could 
have, but did not, advise Enmax he did not wish to have his 
consumption data released to the police.

The remaining two judges dissented on the basis the consumption data 
was capable of predicting or revealing personal information thereby 
resulting in a reasonable expectation of privacy.

So, while Gomboc has taken one for the team, so to speak, his 
conviction has provided others with a valuable piece of information: 
Contact your electricity provider, and indeed any third party who 
provides services to your home, and specifically request they do not 
provide any information to anybody concerning your account or your 
consumption of services.

Had Gomboc done this, he'd have had the two dissenting judges in his 
corner plus the three other judges who based their decision on the 
lack of this request. He'd have had a five-to-four majority ruling 
the provision of the information by Enmax was wrongful because police 
ought to have obtained prior judicial authority.

But sending your utility provider a written request not to disclose 
might not always work. Alberta law provides electricity customers 
with the right to request their customer information not be provided 
to police. Laws may change, they vary in other provinces and a 
customer's request won't prevent police from seeking a search warrant.

Our marijuana laws don't make much sense. We spend far too much money 
enforcing silly marijuana laws. Having said that, marijuana grow-ops 
hidden in homes in residential areas are illegal, can present a 
danger and should be closed down.

Allowing the police to easily access electricity records so as to 
better deal with this problem makes sense to me -- whether or not you 
don't want your electricity provider to give information to the 
police without a warrant.

What I really worry about is who has access to smart meter data and 
what personal information can be gleaned from that data.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake