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Regina v. Stewart

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was hired by a union to obtain confidential information from a hotel. After Appellant tried to bribe a hotel security guard to get the information, the incident was reported to the police. Appellant was subsequently charged with theft, but was acquitted by a single judge court. On appeal, the acquittal was reversed and a verdict of conviction was entered.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Confidential information is not considered “property” for the purposes of criminal law, and is therefore not protected from unauthorized use.

    Facts. Appellant Stewart was hired by a union to obtain confidential information pertaining to the names and addresses of hotel employees. The union sought to organize the employees of the hotel. After Appellant tried to bribe a hotel security guard with money to get the information, the incident was reported to the police. Appellant was subsequently charged with theft, but was acquitted by a single judge court. On appeal, the acquittal was reversed and a verdict of conviction entered.

    Issue. Is confidential information considered “property” for the purposes of criminal law?

    Held. No. Appeal allowed and acquittal restored.
    Even if this type of information is considered property under civil law, it does not automatically follow that it qualifies as property under criminal law and vice versa. The Court understands the reasons why someone who possesses valuable information would want to protect it from an unauthorized use. Criminal law, however, is designed to prevent wrongs against society as a whole.

    Therefore, in order to determine whether or not confidential information should be protected, one should weigh the interest of society as a whole. In contrast to the owner of the information, society’s best advantage would be to protect the free flow of information. If the unauthorized appropriation of confidential information were a criminal offense, there would be widely reaching consequences that the courts are not in a position to consider.

    In addition, treating information as property under criminal law would create many practical problems due to the inherent nature of information. For example, it would be difficult to create a precise definition of “confidential information” and to determine what confidentiality should be based upon. Therefore, the Court feels the legislature is the best venue to decipher what types of confidential information require protection under the law.


    Discussion. The arena of information should be approached in a thorough way by taking into account the competing interest in the free flow of information, an individual’s right to confidentiality, and an individual’s economic interest in certain types of information.


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