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Canadian police get cell-site data to text thousands near murder scene

David Kravets
Tracy Packer via Getty Images
The Ontario Provincial Police in Canada are planning to text about 7,500 mobile phones that were in the area where the body of a murdered man was discovered in December—all in a bid to find somebody who may have information about the crime.
Welcome to the modern, digital-age version of door-to-door police canvassing.
Murder victim Frederick "John" Hatch.
Murder victim Frederick "John" Hatch.
According to local media, the authorities obtained a court order that does not include the names or any other identifying information of mobile phone users whose devices pinged a cell tower near where the body of Frederick "John" Hatch was discovered.
"Texting is an evolution of this investigative technique that is unique, maybe unprecedented,” OPP Detective Inspector Andy Raffay said in a news release. “But it’s the most efficient way to contact these people quickly to either eliminate them as witnesses or learn whether they have any useful information."
The victim's partially burned body was found near Erin, Ontario. Police said the Toronto man was known to hitchhike and was seen the day before his body was discovered at a local discount store in Nepean, near Ottawa, some 450 miles away.
According to local media, the text messages, set to be sent Thursday, will be in English and French and will ask people to voluntarily answer questions. They can also call a tip line at 1-844-677-5010. The authorities are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.
"Building on the accepted practice of the door-to-door witness canvass, texting is an evolution of this investigative technique that is unique, maybe unprecedented," Det. Insp. Andy Raffay of the criminal investigation branch told local media.
A Canadian attorney, Michael Spratt of Ottawa, told CTV News that the police may be on "constitutionally shaky ground."
"This is akin to knocking on everyone’s door and then looking in their mailboxes and opening their mail to see if there is anything of use," he said.
Laura Berger of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the text messaging is similar to door knocking, but it raises the question of "whether people will feel coerced or not."

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