Congressional Commission Launches Investigation into RCMP’s Use of Cell Phone Spyware

A congressional committee will begin investigating the RCMP’s use of spyware on Monday, further digging into the issue that has alarmed privacy and civil liberties groups across the country.

The House Ethics and Privacy Committee called for an investigation over the summer after the RCMP’s use of tools to covertly obtain data from devices such as phones and computers was uncovered.

In response to a written question posed before the House of Representatives in June, the RCMP obtained a warrant to collect text messages and emails and use tools that could remotely turn on cameras and microphones in 10 investigations. clarified.

Privacy and technology attorney David Fraser said:

“This is like an order allowing the police to wear an invisibility cloak and sit on the sofa or bedside table in the living room.”

Fraser said this type of warrant request requires a high degree of scrutiny.

“Part of the important discussion to be made here is to ensure that techniques as intrusive as this are subject to the highest standards of probable cause, and the police will ask judges if other techniques are available. Tried and failed.”

As an alternative approach, Fraser said the commission could look to the methods used by the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency when seeking a warrant for an investigation.

“[CSIS officials]go to the Ottawa bunker and meet in what amounts to a secret courtroom,” he said. “It is the appointed judges of the federal courts who review the incredibly intrusive CSIS law warrant applications, and no one on the side of the board.”

Police expert and Queen’s University professor Christian Lupprecht said technological change is outpacing the legal framework and politicians are often unwilling to intervene and adjust policy.

“It’s the kind of issue where politicians need to sit down and say, ‘OK, you got this technology, and this is how you decided you could use it,'” he said. I got

Leuprecht agreed that there needs to be a high level of scrutiny of the types of technology police are using, especially given the RCMP’s arrest and detention powers.

“Communication security agencies, this is a high-tech agency that knows how to use data and technology,” Ruprecht said. “You might say about the RCMP, but it’s not their primary bread and butter, so there’s a much higher risk of the RCMP making the wrong decisions and drawing the wrong inferences.”

The Commission will have the opportunity to determine whether current laws are adequate to protect Canadians’ privacy. For further transparency, the RCMP may decide that an annual report should be submitted.

Police use of surveillance technology is usually kept secret, Fraser said, and hopes a framework will be put in place to ensure that new technology must undergo independent scrutiny.

“It is not at all reassuring to imagine what the process currently employed by Canadian law enforcement agencies to determine the appropriateness of the use of certain technologies.”

Brenda McPhail, head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Privacy, Technology and Oversight Program, released a statement in late June explaining how the technology is being used and asking the Privacy Commissioner to consult on its deployment. I asked a lot of questions about why I didn’t get it.

“What tools are used and who provides them?” McPhail wrote. “Is he one of the many vendors of spyware known for selling such tools to authoritarian states that use spyware to target human rights defenders and journalists?”

Mr Fraser said this was another important issue for the committee to consider.

“If the police can remotely break into someone’s smartphone, it means that there is something wrong with that phone that the police can exploit and the bad guys can exploit,” he said.

“The ethical course of action” in that case would be for police and spy agencies to report such loopholes to smartphone makers, Fraser said.

“They’re never going to do that unless told to,” he said.

Witnesses attending the scheduled two-day hearing include Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, the current Federal Privacy Commissioner and his deputy, and the RCMP officer who oversaw the use of spyware.

Sarah Richie

canadian press