HALIFAX – A first-of-its-kind law in Nova Scotia, and the country, is reaching out to some of the largest tech companies in the world to figure out the identity of a cyberbully.
Roger Merrick, the province’s director of public safety, said the CyberScan Unit received a complaint a month and a half ago from an adult woman in Halifax. He did not reveal any other details about complainant out of fear it could jeopardize the investigation.
“It was a complaint of cyberbullying. When we looked at it and began our investigation, we also determined there was an element of criminality involved,” he said.
“Some of the messages were threatening. There may be fear for her safety because of the type of messages and the wording that was used. It would draw a reasonable person to the conclusion that this person’s identity needs to be found.”
Merrick did not provide details about when the alleged cyberbullying started, except to say it happened “for some time” before the complaint and continued during the investigation.
The court order requests information from Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, Google and Bell Canada.
It is the first time the courts have awarded the unit such an order.
“That’s substantial for us. It’s new because we haven’t had to use it. We knew at some point in time we would have to have an order to obtain this information. It was a matter of time,” he said.
The court order seeks records that could identify the accused perpetrator, including home addresses, email addresses and IP addresses.
Merrick does not know when the companies will abide to the court order but when they do, he says the unit has several options to deal with the accused cyberbully.
“The whole idea is to get them to stop. If they refuse or if they continue with that activity, we would obtain an order in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ordering them to stop,” he said.
“If they continue with that communication then it would be a violation of that court order and they would have to deal with the repercussions of that,” he said, adding it would either be a fine of up to $5,000 or jail time.
Dalhousie law professor Wayne MacKay said the court order demonstrates how seriously the province is tackling the issue of cyberbullying.
“It certainly underscores potentially how powerful the cybersafety act is. I wasn’t totally surprised. There’s international dimensions to this because cyberbullying doesn’t have boundaries,” he said.
MacKay said the order could set a precedent if the unit is successful in uncovering the accused cyberbully’s identity.
He said a court order should not be the sole solution for the issue of cyberbullying.
“Prevention measures, education measures, more activities in schools to indicate this is not acceptable behaviour. I think the fact it can have serious consequences will help with conveying that message,” he said.
Privacy lawyer David Fraser of McInnis Cooper said the court order was not a surprising move.
“It was inevitable, eventually an effort would be made in order to use the powers that are set out in the act to identify somebody who was anonymous or who was doing things online under a pseudonym,” he said.
His concern is about the law overall, especially with the broad definition of cyberbullying.
Fraser said what happens next with the court order will be critical.
“Whether the powers in this law actually mesh with the existing means of getting information from service providers outside of the country I think remains to be seen. That’s probably going ot be the most important outcome out of this order,” he said.
Nova Scotia is the first province with this type of cyberbullying legislation.
The unit has received 233 complaints as of Monday, June 2.
Global News reached out to the various companies that received a court order for a comment.
Google sent the following statement to Global News: “Like all law-abiding companies, we respect the laws in the countries in which we operate. Law enforcement agencies must be able to pursue illegal activity and keep the public safe and we have always made clear that we comply with valid legal requests. We take user privacy very seriously, and whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying.”
Meanwhile, Facebook sent this statement about the court order: “We don’t comment on cases that are before the courts, but suggest you check out this page for information on how Facebook works with law enforcement: https://www.facebook.com/safety/groups/law/guidelines/”
With files from The Canadian Press
© Shaw Media, 2014