The Canadian privacy commissioner has confirmed it will be investigate whether the RCMP is using a mobile surveillance device known as a stingray.
The stingray device, a type of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catcher, mimics a mobile tower. When a phone in the vicinity connects to the device, it receives the information being transmitted by the device including location, calls, SMS, and data transmissions.
The device is already in widespread use in the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union has identified 61 law enforcement agencies in the country that have admitted to owning a stingray device, including the Internal Revenue Service and the National Security Agency.
No such information on the use of stingrays is available in Canada, an issue brought to light by the Toronto Star after it was denied access to policy documents regarding the use of stingrays from the RCMP. This article, published in December 2015, prompted Laura Tribe of BC-based civil rights advocacy group Open Media to file a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) that same month.
In her complaint, she writes that several “media and civil society organizations” have requested information from law enforcement agencies on whether the stingray is in use, and that the RCMP, Vancouver Police Department and Ontario Provincial Police have refused to confirm or deny use.
“We believe that these police departments’ failure to acknowledge if and when they are utilizing these technologies highlights the grave potential that Canadians are suffering from a serious violation of their Charter rights,” said Tribe in the document.
The Star reported two days ago that OPC spokesperson Valeria Lawton confirmed the commissioner will launch an investigation regarding the complaint to determine if any privacy laws have been broken and make policy recommendations.