Privacy acts effective tools against vigilante outing groups

Privacy acts effective tools against vigilante outing groups
Thompson Rivers law professor Craig Jones has obtained an order from the acting B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner against Surrey Creep Catchers ordering it to take down video and information about a client and a second man.

A Thompson Rivers University law professor says that privacy acts can be effective tools for lawyers attempting to help innocent individuals ensnared by vigilante groups such as Creep Catchers, which outs suspected pedophiles by posting their video and personal information on the internet.  

“This is fairly new phenomena,” says Craig Jones, as vigilante groups are springing up across Canada, in the United States and overseas in Australia. “Our theory is straightforward — our privacy should be protected by the Privacy Act.”

Jones has successfully obtained an order from acting B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur against Surrey Creep Catchers ordering it to take down video and information regarding his client and a second man by Sept. 6.

“As far as I know, this is the only privacy decision order against Creep Catchers in Canada — or the world. I can’t think of another similar case. It is unique in that way,” says Jones. 

The strength of such orders is now going forward to B.C. Supreme Court as Surrey Creep Catchers has filed for a judicial review. Jones says some of the information has been removed, but it keeps “popping up” on other sites.

Order P17-03 maintained that Surrey Creep Catchers collected, used and disclosed the complainants’ personal information contrary to B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act by using deception, was not an organization authorized or had consent to collect information and publish personal information and, finally, it could not argue it was practising journalism for the public good. It orders Surrey Creep Catchers to stop collecting information on the two individuals and destroy all personal information in its custody and under its control and to ask others who disseminated the information to remove and destroy it also. The order, which runs more than 18 pages, was issued July 24.

On Aug. 24, Surrey Creep Catchers president Ryan Laforge filed in B.C. Supreme Court his petition for a judicial review of the privacy commissioner’s order.

Erin Beattie, director of communications for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., says the office is preparing a response to the petition filed in court. The privacy commissioner’s office does not comment on or disclose details of any active investigation, nor will it comment on legal decisions its office has made such as an order.

Jones says he became involved a year ago. “It started for me last summer 2016,” he says, while visiting the group’s website and viewing encounters between SCC [Surrey Creep Catchers] and individuals who responded to Craigslist postings. SCC posts notices posing as a woman wanting to meet men for a platonic relationship. During the email or text conversation, the organization swaps the woman from an adult into a juvenile as young as 13. If the man still agrees to meet the individual, a decoy may be used and the group films the encounter, especially seeking individuals who are interested in luring under-aged girls for sex.

“I saw one of their busts [on their website] and he appeared to be completely innocent,” says Jones, adding that it appeared to be an “attack” on that individual. Jones wrote an opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun warning of the pitfalls of vigilante groups and the harm they can do to innocent individuals, referring to the individual he saw in the video.

The individual, known in the privacy commissioner’s order as Complainant 1, read the opinion piece and contacted Jones, and became his client. Jones said the 33-year-old man, who does not own a computer, had been inspired by the film Craigslist Joe, the 2012 documentary about a young man who travels across the U.S. during the 2008 recession relying on the generosity of strangers he met on Craigslist for food and shelter. Jones’s client posted under platonic relationships using a library computer. Surrey Creep Catchers posed as “Bekky” — interested in art and motorcycles. Messages were swapped. Bekky indicated she was 15, not an adult female and asked if he still wanted to meet for coffee.

“My client [who kept the text message] said — ‘as long as we are only meeting for coffee,'” Jones says.

When the meeting occurred, the client was filmed and the encounter posted on the group’s site. Jones says that these outings have a devastating effect on an individual, including his client, as they impact where the individual lives, his work and his family.

Jones says he filed a privacy complaint on behalf of his client. It was followed by a second complainant, an individual suffering from cerebral palsy whose scooter was hit by a vehicle while fleeing from the Surrey Creep Catchers. Both complaints were dealt with in the same order by the privacy commissioner who ordered all information removed from the website.

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