CrySP Speaker Series on Privacy

This speaker series is made possible by an anonymous charitable donation in memory of cypherpunks and privacy advocates Len Sassaman, Hugh Daniel, Hal Finney, and Caspar Bowden.

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Access to basic subscriber information and the Spencer Decision: disentangling normative and technological questions

Lisa Austin, University of Toronto

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May 5, 2017 2:00pm, in QNC 1502


The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v Spencer held that law enforcement agents must get a warrant in order to obtain basic subscriber information (BSI) from a telecommunications service provider. The federal government has signaled that it is considering drafting legislation that would allow warrantless access to at least some BSI. Much of this debate is being framed in normative terms, namely whether BSI is truly private information, or whether it is as private as content information. This talk will outline these developments but then asks whether the normative framing of the debate is misleading. Many normative issues in law actually rest upon assumptions about how the world works and when those assumptions no longer hold true – such as when technology disrupts the built world or shows us how to build it differently – then possibilities open up to reframe debates. I will ask whether this might be one of those debates open for reframing.


Lisa Austin is an associate professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. She holds both a law and doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of Toronto. Professor Austin's research and teaching interests include privacy law, property law and legal theory. Her work has appeared in a number of leading journals including Legal Theory and Law and Philosophy and has also been cited by the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. Professor Austin has worked as a consultant for the Canadian Judicial Council, helping to draft to their Model Policy for Access to Court Records in Canada. Prior to joining the faculty, she served as law clerk to Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci of the Supreme Court of Canada.