Privacy experts disagree with RCMP that spyware is akin to eavesdropping

Privacy experts say police and government use of “highly intrusive” spyware must be tightly controlled, and the technology should be outlawed for the general public in Canada. .

Former Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien told the commission he was unaware that the RCMP had been using what it called an “on-device investigation tool” for more than a decade.

“With so much public debate about the encryption conundrum[in policing]when I was the Privacy Commissioner, I was told tools were used to overcome encryption. It was amazing that there weren’t,” he said.

During his 2014-2022 term, Terrien called on Congress to strengthen Canada’s privacy laws. In particular, he said privacy needs to be recognized as a basic human right under the law.

Therrien appeared before the House Ethics Committee on Tuesday as part of the RCMP’s investigation into the use of spyware in 32 investigations over the past five years.

A senior RCMP official told the commission on Monday that although the technology is new, privacy violations on digital devices have been practiced by police for years through wiretapping and the installation of surveillance cameras. said they were similar.

But experts, including Terrien, say otherwise.

“The state, the police, have access to everything on that phone,” he said.

Sharon Polsky, president of Canada’s Privacy and Access Council, said spyware should be outlawed unless approved by an independent third party.

“It’s commercially available to anyone with an internet connection who wants to download it,” she said, noting that spyware has been used by human traffickers and intimate partner abusers.

“No one talks about how spyware can take advantage of shortcomings and flaws in many software programs. Software should be properly tested to minimize opportunities.”

Therrien agreed that the technology could be legally used by law enforcement when there is a very compelling public interest, such as in the case of serious crimes.

“If the collection of information is permitted by law, such a level of intrusion is still legal, may be consistent with privacy principles, is necessary, and may be construed as persuasive by the government. It’s proportionate to the achievement of the objective,” said Therrien.

But he also said he sees no compelling reason to allow anyone in the private sector to use it.

The director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab said spyware is “like enhanced eavesdropping” and requires more surveillance than traditional eavesdropping and requires much higher thresholds for use. I’m here.

Ron Deibert will address the committee later on Tuesday.

In a prepared statement provided to the Canadian Press, Deibert said what he called the “mercenary spyware industry” was poorly regulated and associated with widespread abuse. rice field.

He said the industry is a threat to civil society, human rights and democracy and that governments should be transparent about procuring this technology.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne told the commission that the Mounties did not notify his office before starting to use the technology, which he learned through the media.

He told lawmakers to change privacy laws to require government departments and organizations to initiate privacy impact assessments when new technologies are introduced that could affect the “fundamental right to privacy.” I am asking you to

Sarah Richie

canadian press