#CyberFLASH: Government use of surveillance devices must be restricted: privacy experts

smartphone-2Canada must acknowledge, and then constrain, the government’s use of portable surveillance devices that can indiscriminately dredge data from people’s smartphones without them knowing, privacy experts say.

Everything that is known or suspected about the government’s use of these machines – called “IMSI catchers,” “cell-site simulators” or “Stingrays” – is chronicled in a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind, 130-page report written by privacy experts and released to The Globe and Mail.

Federal police have used these devices for more than a decade, but the practice was confirmed only this year in a series of stories in The Globe. Now, researchers Christopher Parsons and Tamir Israel say it’s time for civil society to debate the pros and cons of IMSI catchers, even if many government agencies still won’t discuss them.

“This ongoing secrecy has the effect of delaying important public debates,” the report says.

The report was commissioned by the Telecom Transparency Project and the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic. They received grants from the Open Society Foundation, privacy activist Frederick Ghahramani, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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#CyberFLASH: ‘Orwellian’ surveillance system monitors all phones on prison grounds

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Cristina Howorun, the reporter who broke the story, told the Star that Correctional Services Canada (CSC) had installed high-tech mobile surveillance at Warkworth Institution as part of an investigation into contraband at the federal prison.

The technology, which is similar to “stingrays” used by police in the United States, intercepts calls and texts coming from inside the prison, its parking lot, grounds and possibly even the surrounding area, Howorun reported.

“It’s very Orwellian, it really does give the sense that Big Brother is listening, if not watching,” she said.

In a memo obtained by CityNews, Warkworth’s warden Scott Thompson wrote after a number of deaths and overdoses, he asked Correctional Services Canada to install the technology to help catch contraband.

“Unfortunately, I knew that by trying to intercept what the inmates were doing, I would also be provided with information about cellular devices being used in noninmate areas,” Thompson wrote.

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