#CyberFLASH: The covert cellphone tracking tech the RCMP and CSIS won’t talk about

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Law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Canada won’t say whether they use covert tools called International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers to track the location of mobile phones and devices – even as the extent of their use by U.S. government agencies is raising serious questions among civil libertarians.

The devices colloquially known as Stingrays – which is the trademarked name for a widely used model sold by Florida-based Harris Corp. – commonly work by masquerading as a legitimate cellular communications tower and tricking nearby devices into connecting and sharing your phone’s IMSI (a unique identifier tied to every mobile device), typically without the knowledge of device owners.

Once connected, an operator can collect identifying information on all connected devices in a geographic area, or home in on the location of a specific device. In certain circumstances, it can even intercept phone calls and text messages.

The RCMP, in response to inquiries by journalists, has refused to confirm or deny whether Stingrays or other IMSI catchers have been used. RCMP spokesperson David Falls said the agency “[does] not release information pertaining to capabilities/tools as that can have an impact on our investigations.”

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