Lawyers at Engel & Associates have seen a steady increase in police investigations and criminal charges for offences involving the Internet. Technology is constantly advancing and becoming more sophisticated. As technology advances, the scope of what is considered computer crime or “cybercrime” expands, as do the rules with respect to privacy, surveillance of virtual spaces, police investigation tactics, and search and seizure of evidence. In an attempt to keep pace with the boom in Internet-based offences, the Canadian government is continually updating criminal law and toughening penalties for cybercrime. Lawyers at our criminal defence firm in Ottawa prepared this list of what you need to know about computer-based crime.
Ask a criminal defence lawyer: Cybercrime 101
Cybercrime in Canada is broadly defined as including any crime where the Internet or technology such as computers, tablets, smartphones, or other mobile devices have a substantial role in the commission of the offence. Within that broad definition, cybercrime can be split into two general categories:
Technologically advanced crimes that target computers or use technology to exploit vulnerabilities or access digital information. For example, hacking, distributed denial of service (DDos) attacks, criminal botnet operations, malware or ransomware threats, “mischief to data” or other unauthorized remote access or infiltration of computers, system networks, or mobile devices.
More traditional crimes such as drug trafficking and child pornography, or white-collar crimes like fraud or money laundering, that are committed using the Internet or information technology.
There is considerable overlap between those two categories. An individual may hack into a computer to steal personal data or use keystroke logging technology to capture banking passwords, then use that information to commit a more traditional criminal offence such as fraud or extortion. Cyberbullying, cyberstalking, “phishing” for personal information, identity theft, organized crime, cryptocurrency scams, intellectual property infringement, human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and gambling are further examples of offences which are taking new forms and increasing in complexity when committed via the Internet or digital devices.
What you need to know if you are charged with cybercrime
Lawyers who specialize in criminal defence can protect your rights and aggressively defend you if you are under investigation or charged with cybercrime. Here are just some of the things you need to be aware of if you are under investigation or charged with computer crime:
False accusations are not uncommon, as individuals are able to conceal or mislead with respect to their identity or location when using virtual platforms. In R. v. Spencer the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a warrant was needed to obtain subscriber information (i.e., name and address) associated with a particular Internet protocol (“IP”) address from an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”). The Court’s ruling underscored that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy and anonymity in their online activities. In some cases, traditional legal principles and defences can be applied in cases involving technology. For example, cellphones and text messaging are not new, but in the 2020 appeal in R. v. Ahmad the Supreme Court of Canada for the first time considered the doctrine of entrapment in the context of dial-a-dope drug trafficking. In other criminal law matters, the law is ill-suited or out-of-sync with technological advancements and novel defences or issues need to be raised.
Cybercrime charges often come after lengthy investigations. Police can make serious errors in accessing or collecting of evidence which infringes an individual’s legal rights. In Canada, section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects individuals against unreasonable search and seizure. The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that a specific warrant is generally required for law enforcement agencies to search a person’s computer or similar portable device (R. v. Vu).
Private computer information – including identifying information and the metadata and transmission data that are connected to electronic communications – has consistently been treated by the Supreme Court of Canada as personal information that engages significant privacy interests deserving of Charter protection.
Cybercrime may not originate within Canadian borders or it may affect people, businesses, or governments in other countries, and thus be outside of Canada’s criminal law jurisdiction. However, Canada is party to several bilateral and multinational treaties that facilitate mutual legal assistance with foreign police agencies.
Under investigation or charged with cybercrime? Lawyers can defend your rights Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have the experience and know-how to effectively navigate the criminal justice system and constantly changing cybercrime laws. Our cybercrime lawyers will stand up for your rights and guide you through every stage of the process. We will challenge the charges and seek to reduce or minimize the negative consequences for you. For more information, contact the Ottawa criminal defence lawyers at Engel & Associates, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (613) 235-6324.