The cellphone spyware the police don’t want to acknowledge

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a bill of rights entrenched in the Constitution of Canada. The Charter guarantees certain political rights to Canadian citizens and civil rights of everyone in Canada from the policies and actions of all areas and levels of government. It is designed to unify Canadians around a set of principles that embody those rights.

The cellphone spyware the police don’t want to acknowledge

Postby Thomas » Wed Dec 16, 2015 2:18 pm

Canada’s two largest police forces are refusing to say if they use stingrays, which work by scooping up the cellphone signals of everyone nearby.

High-tech surveillance equipment called “stingrays” allows police to listen in on your cellphone conversations and text messages — even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
But Canada’s two largest police forces are refusing to say if they use these devices, which work by scooping up the cellphone signals of people nearby.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police have both declined to tell the Star if they use International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers – also known as “stingrays” – because they say giving out that information could interfere with their investigations.

“With respect to the question you have been asking, I’m not in the position to speak given the operational nature of the question, so regrettably I cannot provide a response,” said OPP spokesperson Sgt. Peter Leon. “I hope you do understand the position of the OPP with respect to this matter.”

The RCMP also refused to provide any information about whether or how it uses stingray technology. When the Star used the Access to Information Act to request policies related to the RCMP’s use of the technology, the RCMP wrote back that those records were exempt from disclosure.

In reply to the Star’s request, RCMP Supt. David Vauter cited sections of the law that exempt records because of attorney-client privilege and records that “could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the enforcement of any law of Canada or a province or the conduct of lawful investigations.”

Later, an RCMP spokesperson reiterated that the RCMP does not comment on investigative techniques outside of the courtroom.

“The RCMP does not generally provide information on techniques or technologies used in criminal investigations. Investigative tools are ultimately assessed and tested by the courts,” said RCMP spokesman Harold Pfleiderer in an email.

Stingrays electronically mimic cellphone towers, and trick cellphones within their range into connecting to them. Once a phone makes the connection, the stingray can grab data from it – including phone numbers, texts, phone calls and websites visited – in real time.

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish said the technology, which has a range of several kilometres, casts a wide net that doesn’t distinguish between suspects in criminal cases and ordinary citizens.

“It’s potentially so intrusive in terms of the amount of information it can gather, not only about a target but about other people as well, people that aren’t under suspicion,” Beamish said.

Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology at the University of Ottawa, said that everybody’s in the dark about whether police use stingrays – and if they do use them, how that might impact privacy.

“The problem is, we can’t even know what those problems are,” he said.

Although police won’t say whether they use stingrays in Canada, use of the devices is widespread in the United States. Kerr said that he’s spoken with many Canadian defence lawyers who believe the technology is used in police investigations here.

In August, the Office of the Ontario Privacy Commission upheld the Toronto Police Services Board’s right to neither confirm nor deny that it owns stingrays.

“I specifically find that the disclosure of this information respecting the existence or non-existence of responsive records could reasonably be expected to reveal investigative techniques which are either in use or could likely be used in law enforcement,” read the ruling written by Donald Hale, an adjudicator with the Office of the Ontario Privacy Commissioner.

That ruling related to a June 2014 access to information request by someone who wanted records of stingray purchases, which can cost upwards of $100,000 (U.S.).

“. . . [D]ue to the nature of your inquiry surrounding the use of electronic surveillance devices, disclosing such information could reveal classified operational procedures currently in practice by the Police Service; thus, potentially jeopardizing the effectiveness in fulfilling its policing mandate,” read the original reply from the Toronto Police Services Board.

After the Star brought the ruling to his attention, Beamish said his office might not shield police from questions about stingray surveillance going forward.

“Having read and considered it (the ruling), it’s not apparent to me that the public interest was given full consideration,” Beamish said, adding the appeal to his office was the first of its kind related to stingrays.

“Were we to have another appeal, I think it could lead to a different conclusion, let me put it that way.”

Following that ruling, Toronto police spokesperson Craig Brister told the Star that the force does not have a stingray. “I have made some inquiries and we do not use the Stingray technology and do not have one of the units,” Brister said in an email.

Kerr said he doesn’t buy into the other police forces’ “excuse” that revealing general information about stingray technology could hurt their ability to do their jobs.

If police are using them, he said, they should come out and say how they use them and how they ensure that innocent citizens’ privacy is protected. ... ledge.html ... now-about/ ... veillance/
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