#CyberFLASH: Privacy watchdog to investigate RCMP over alleged ‘stingray’ cellphone surveillance

stingray.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxCanada’s privacy watchdog says it will investigate a privacy complaint about the alleged use of “stingrays” by the RCMP.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner spokesperson Valerie Lawton said the organization has opened an investigation into the RCMP’s refusal to admit whether or not it usesthe surveillance technology known as stingrays, formally called International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers.

During the course of an investigation, the privacy commissioner typically determines if any privacy laws have been broken and makes recommendations on future policy.

The complaint was filed by Laura Tribe, a digital rights specialist for free speech advocate OpenMedia, after she read a story in the Star about the RCMP’s refusal to answer questions about the devices.

“If these invasive technologies are not in use, then these agencies should have no problem confirming that their surveillance activities remain within the confines of the law. If these StingRay technologies are being used in Canada however, the public has a right to know,” said her complaint, filed in December.

The RCMP did not immediately return the Star’s request for comment.

The Mounties have remained tight-lipped about the tech, which mimics a cellphone tower and collects information such as identifying data, text messages and phone calls from people’s cellphones. The device casts a wide net that doesn’t distinguish between suspects in criminal cases and ordinary citizens.

In December, 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. The OPP also wouldn’t comment on whether they used the devices.

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