The Supreme Court of Canada issued its ruling in R. v. Telus Communications Company, 2013 SCC 16, in which it was called upon to decide the extent to which important privacy protections offered for the interception of private communications should apply to advanced communications delivery mechanisms. Normally, a special interception warrant (called a Part VI authorization) is required before police are authorized to access private communications that have not yet occurred. In this case, however, the government argued it should be able to bypass the critical privacy protections found in Part VI because one company, TELUS, decides to temporarily store these as part of its message delivery process. The premise for this argument was that Part VI only protects against 'interceptions', and you cannot 'intercept' something that is not in motion, including TELUS' temporarily stored text messages. Therefore, the government can gain access to future messages that have not yet been sent, and no 'interception' occurs since the messages are taken from TELUS' stored databases.
The problem is that, while real-time voice was the predominant form of electronic communications in the late 70s when Part VI protections were enacted, many forms of electronic communications, including SMS and email, employ temporary storage as part of the delivery process. The question then arises: do we throw away a critical set of privacy protections just because private communications are being transmitted by new techniques? In our intervention in this case, we argued against an overly narrow definition of Part VI that would defeat its ultimate purpose -- the protection of private communications. Today's decision saw a 5-3 majority of the Supreme Court rejecting the argument that police can do what is effectively and practically the type of 'electronic conversation' that Part VI was intended to protect. Access to text messages that have not yet been sent normally requires Part VI authorization. Just because TELUS stores its messages for a short period of time as part of the delivery process does not mean Part VI can be ignored.