Ontario Appeal Court ruling limits cellphone privacy

An Ontario court decision upholding the police's right to examine the contents of an unlocked cellphone is raising red flags for Ottawa's privacy experts.

Legal experts say a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision that allows police to look through an unlocked cellphone without a warrant makes people's personal information that much more vulnerable.

The ruling comes in the case of a man who appealed his robbery conviction, arguing that police breached his charter rights by looking through his phone which was not password protected.

But the appeal court said police were entitled to look through the phone for evidence relevant to the crime.

John Lawford, a lawyer specializing in electronic privacy, said the ruling does not bode well for privacy rights.

"You never know when you'll be stopped and arrested improperly so that's one reason to be concerned about it," said Lawford who has since added a password to his phone. 

"The problem is that people put so much personal information on their cell phones and if they're not taking any type of steps they might be giving a lot away."

Abby Deshman of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is also unhappy.

"We're concerned about it," Deshman said. "There's a lot of private information that's contained on people's cellphones.

If the Ontario appeal court's ruling is challenged, the matter could go the Supreme Court, but in the meantime privacy experts say if you're concerned, put a password on your cellphone.