#CyberFLASH: Police mass texting to public in murder investigation raises privacy fears

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Privacy and legal experts across Canada say serious privacy questions need to be asked about an “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” move by Ontario Provincial Police to send text messages to about 7,500 people for information about an unsolved homicide.

nvestigators say the mass texting — what they are calling a “digital canvass” — is the high-tech equivalent of knocking on thousands of doors for information.

Privacy experts say Thursday’s canvass is different, however, as it relies on information most people might have assumed was private, is potentially far more invasive and raises red flags about what police will do with the data once their investigation is complete.

While the text message push is new here in Canada, police in the United States issued a cellphone alert to millions of phones in the New York and New Jersey areas after the Sept. 17 bombing that injured 29 people.

Police arrested Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, after they say a resident subsequently alerted police about a man who matched his description.

But the smaller scale and scope of the Ontario investigation has some concerned about when these kinds of searches will be justified.

Texts sent to solve a murder

Police obtained the phone numbers from a cell tower by filing a court order, a step they say they took to solve a murder.

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