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Police violated rights when searching cell phones: court 0

By David P. Ball, 24 hours Vancouver

Civil liberties lawyers are claiming victory in a B.C. Court of Appeals case that ruled police unintentionally violated the Charter when they searched through a suspect's smart phones. 
(David P. Ball, 24 hours)

Civil liberties lawyers are claiming victory in a B.C. Court of Appeals case that ruled police unintentionally violated the Charter when they searched through a suspect's smart phones. (David P. Ball, 24 hours)

The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled police violated a suspect's rights when they searched and downloaded the contents of his two smart phones without a warrant during a kidnapping investigation.

But in her ruling Wednesday judge Risa Levine nonetheless threw out Rajan Mann's appeal, deeming the violation of his search-and-seizure rights didn't bring the "administration of justice into disrepute."

"Downloading the entire contents of a cell phone or smartphone, like the BlackBerrys in this case, seized on the arrest of the accused, after some delay, without a search warrant, can no longer be considered valid under (Section 8) of the Charter as a reasonable warrantless search," Levine wrote in her judgment.

"The highly invasive nature of these searches exceeds the permissible scope for a warrantless search." Mann was twice arrested in connection with a June 2006 kidnapping in Richmond.

He was convicted, but appealed it in B.C. Supreme Court, which ruled the RCMP's search of his two encrypted BlackBerry phones was justified because they contained evidence he was involved in the crime.

A lawyer for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which intervened in the case, said the organization is "very pleased" with the findings despite Mann's appeal being tossed.

"As the use of these types of electronic devices has become more and more ubiquitous, the capacity of them to hold highly personal information about people is heightened," BCCLA lawyer Raji Mangat told 24 hours.

But Mangat said because the judge declined to rule on the legality of "cursory searches" of cellphones, the BCCLA will have to find another case to challenge less invasive searches during arrests.

Criminal Justice Branch spokesman Neil McKenzie said the police agencies will no doubt take the ruling into account in future cases.  

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