A potential landmark case pitting Facebook against local law-enforcement officials over access to evidence – namely, private messages linked to a London homicide probe – has been dismissed.
The battle over evidence in the Raymond Beaver murder case, which had the potential to up-end how social-media organizations operate in Canada, is over after London police obtained the private messages through already-established channels, rather than battling for quicker access through the courts.
This looming fight was detailed in a recent Free Press analysis that examined how London police sought to acquire Facebook messages to use as evidence at the murder trial of the people accused of killing Raymond Beaver, a 43-year-old man who was beaten and stabbed to death in his home on Oct. 2, 2017.
At issue are the contents of Facebook Messenger texts that were sent and received in Canada, which the police want for evidence.
When a Messenger text is sent from a phone in Canada, it’s processed by a Facebook Inc. data centre in the United States, or sometimes in Europe, before it goes to the recipient. That means every Canadian Messenger text takes a trip to America, where it’s stored, before it reaches its Canadian destination.
To get the evidence from the U.S., the police usually have to go through a treaty called the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, known as MLAT – an evidence-collection journey that investigators say is clunky, lengthy and inefficient.
London police didn’t want to deal with such a delay. So a London judge, Ontario Court Justice John Skowronski, signed off in April on a police-issued “production order,” which would grant investigators access to the evidence within 30 days.
But Facebook said no, arguing it’s an American company that stores its data outside of Canada and, therefore, shouldn’t have to comply with an Ontario court order. “Facebook Inc. is of the view consistently across the board that it is subject to U.S. law,” said Facebook Inc. lawyer David Fraser.
Facebook wanted the police to go through the established channel, MLAT, which they ultimately did – rendering Skowronski’s order essentially moot and resulting in Thursday’s dismissal in a Windsor courtroom.
A London lawyer who has written about social media law, Ted Madison, told The Free Press in August that the case raised important questions about California-based Facebook and how it intersects with Canadian society and courts.
“I would argue if they have some sort of connection in Canada . . . then we have some sort of jurisdiction over them and it doesn’t matter whether the head office in California tells us to pound salt.”