In what is likely to be a precedent-setting case, Ontario Provincial Police will send two SMS messages to some 7,500 people today to ask for information relating to an unsolved homicide case.
On December 17th, 2015, the body of Frederick John Hatch was discovered on the side of the road near Erin, Ontario, a community just west of Toronto. He was last seen the day before at a Dollar Tree Store in Ottawa. While Hatch was known to hitchhike, police haven’t been able to ascertain how he got from Ottawa to Erin — even after announcing a $50,000 reward for any tips that may help break open the case.
So the OPP are now turning to a measure they’re calling “digital canvassing”. Using a court order, the police service has obtained approximately 7,500 cell phone numbers from a cell tower near West Hunt Club and Merivale roads in Ottawa, the area where Hatch was last seen before he disappeared. Later today, the OPP will send two text messages — one in English and one in French — asking recipients to voluntarily visit a website and answer a few questions that could help the service solve the case.
While there are no names attached to the numbers obtained by the OPP, privacy experts are concerned the numbers could be used in situations unrelated to Hatch’s murder. Former Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian points out that the OPP will keep those 7,500 numbers until it solves the case — which may never happen — and use them for any number of reasons down the road.