RCMP used unwarranted cellphone surveillance technology six times

An image of uniformed RCMP officers

According to a Privacy Commissioner’s report, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has used unwarranted cellphone surveillance technology without “exigent circumstances” six times out of 126 instances of surveillance.

The RCMP issued a formal response on to an Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) report on September 13th, 2017. The RCMP explained that it had worked with the OPC over the course of the investigation of the federal police force’s use of mobile device identifiers (MDI) — known as IMSI catchers and sometimes referred to by the brand name ‘Stingray.’

The OPC began an investigation in April 2016 looking into the RCMP’s use of MDIs, based on a public complaint regarding the RCMP’s lack of transparency on the issue.

The OPC investigation was informed of 125 investigations in which the RCMP used MDIs during the review period — a length of time which the RCMP did not make explicit. The federal police force further provided the OPC with information on an additional investigation during which the use of MDIs was both “warranted and unwarranted.”

“In conclusion, the report stated that in general, the complaint was not well-founded, with the exceptions of six instances out of 126, in which the RCMP did not obtain prior judicial authorization or have exigent circumstances,” reads an excerpt from a September 13th, 2017 media release.

According to the RCMP, the OPC found that the police force had “already taken steps to remedy this situation.”

“The report stated that in general, the complaint was not well-founded, with the exceptions of six instances out of 126.”

The RCMP statement also made reference to the organization’s public disclosure in April 2017 of its MDI use.

On April 5th, 2017, the RCMP invited reporters from CBC News, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail to attend a “technical briefing,” during which the police service showcased its use of cellphone surveillance to the public.

“The RCMP believes MDIs provide valuable assistance to criminal investigations and other policing duties,” reads another excerpt from the same media release.

“They can help further criminal investigations relating to national security, serious and organized crime, and other serious Criminal Code offences that impact the safety and security of Canadians.”

IMSI catchers work by mimicking cellphone towers. Once connected, IMSI catchers are capable of collecting data transmitted by a mobile phone, including location, call, SMS, as well as subscriber identity keys.

The use of an IMSI catcher was recently detected in the nation’s capital and at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport early this year. It was previously revealed in a Montreal court case concerning an alleged mafia hit that the RCMP has been using MDIs since 2005.

An OPC information officer who spoke with MobileSyrup said that the full report needs to pass through Parliament before it can be made public. Parliament is currently not in session, and will return on September 18th, 2017.

Even once reviewed by Parliament, however, there is no guarantee that the OPC report will be made public.

Source: RCMP

Image courtesy of Flickr user Susan Nelson