The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on October 19 that police still require warrants to search workplace computers, because employees have a privacy right over personal use of workplace computers.
The finding means a new trial for teacher Richard Cole, who was charged with possession of child pornography and unauthorized use of a computer. The court said the school board and principal have the statutory authority to protect students and regulate the workplace, and therefore have the power to search and seize Cole’s laptop contents. However, the principal should not hand material found over to police, because a warrant was required to seize the files.
“Computers that are reasonably used for personal purposes — whether found in the workplace or the home — contain information that is meaningful, intimate and touching on the user’s biographical core,” the court said. “Canadians may therefore reasonably expect privacy in the information contained on these computers, at least where personal use is permitted or reasonably expected.”
However, the decision does not license employees to use workplace devices for criminal activity, and the court found that evidence seized in the Cole case can still be used at trial.