Source: House of Commons (Parlvu)

The director of Canada’s top spy agency says he was “very concerned” by a recent court decision that ruled IP addresses are protected from unreasonable search and seizure. 

While speaking to the Public Safety Committee about extremism Mar. 21, CSIS director David Vigneault said the intelligence agency was concerned by the Supreme Court’s finding in its Bykovets decision earlier this year that IP addresses were protected under section 8 of the Charter.

“We need to have a national discussion on this, because, as I said, it is at more than just the federal level. From a CSIS point of view, it’s the ability to get access to data. The previous line of questioning regarding the Supreme Court decision on Bykovets is one that we are actively looking at,” Vigneault told MPs. 

“The concern we have is that the proper judicial authorization is required to be able to take those IP addresses so that we can get to the actors and apply the tools that we have. This is a very serious concern.”

True North reached out to CSIS for comment concerning Vigneault’s comments and to ask whether the agency has sought judicial authorization for IPs since the ruling but the agency refused to respond.

The Supreme Court of Canada made the landmark R v. Bykovets ruling on Mar. 1. The case centred around an online fraud scheme involving a liquor store where police contacted a third-party payment processor to obtain the IP address of the suspect, Andrei Bykovets. 

Initial judgments at lower courts found that section 8 of the Charter, which protects Canadians from unreasonable search or seizure and offers “a reasonable expectation of privacy,” did not apply to IP addresses. 

However, the majority Supreme Court judgment, supported by five and opposed by four justices, overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision. 

According to the Supreme Court, Canadians have a reasonable expectation that the privacy of their IP addresses would be respected since section 8 also protects informational privacy. 

“IP addresses play a crucial role in the inherent structure of the Internet. They are the means by which Internet-connected devices both send and receive data. As such, they are the key to unlocking an Internet user’s online activity — the first ‘digital breadcrumbs’ on the user’s cybernetic trail,” the Supreme Court ruled. 

The ruling has broad implications for how intelligence services like CSIS and law enforcement agencies operate, now that they require judicial warrants to obtain IP addresses from third parties.