What is the VPD hiding? Pro-privacy groups are digging deeper for answers on Stingray use
VPD admitted it doesn’t have the device, but recent revelations on RCMP use of Stingrays raise doubts on whether these devices have been used by other law enforcement agencies.
A coalition of privacy and police accountability groups are demanding further transparency from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) following an inquiry into police use of mass surveillance devices known as Stingrays or IMSI-catchers.
These devices mimic cell towers and sweep up all sorts of sensitive information from cell phones within a 2 km radius — just check out how many people would be affected by a Stingray device located in downtown Toronto:
The British Columbia Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) recently finalized its investigation into the VPD’s use of Stingrays after the VPD stated they did not use the device in a letter to our friends at the Pivot Legal Society, who issued the initial complaint.
However, last week court documents published in Quebec, and analyzed by Vice and Motherboard revealed alarming news: the RCMP has been using Stingray devices for the past decade and, to make matters worse, it has also been retaining information on thousands of innocent Canadians while giving other police departments access to Stingrays for their investigations. These revelations sparked a wave of concerns and indignation from the public, as reflected by these comments from our community:
A very disturbing but not surprising ongoing violation of Canadians’ privacy.
Too lazy to do real police work.
In response to the publication of these court documents documents, the groups backing the OIPC inquiry are now asking Chief Adam Palmer whether the VPD ever used the RCMP’s Stingray devices or accessed the associated data.
In the words of Doug King, Police Accountability campaigner at Pivot Legal Society: “It’s long past the time for the VPD—and law enforcement agencies across the country, for that matter—to come fully clean on how they are surveilling the public”.
The OIPC inquiry was originally filed in response to the VPD’s refusal to provide concrete answers on Stingrays in a Freedom of Information request made by Pivot Legal Society last year. This March, Pivot filed an appeal with the OIPC backed up by submissions from OpenMedia and our allies at the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BC FIPA), demanding that the VPD disclose its records under the access to information laws.
All in all, we’re pretty skeptical about the VPD’s claim that they don’t possess any records at all regarding Stingrays — as our own Laura Tribe stated, “Last week's revelations showed the RCMP has been in possession of Stingrays for a full decade. It defies belief that the Vancouver Police Department has no records whatsoever regarding the existence of, or the potential use of these devices. The VPD's decision to stonewall OIPC for so long amounts to a waste of taxpayer money and government resources. The public deserves an informed debate on these issues.”
For more background, you can find Pivot Legal Society’s original Freedom of Information request here as well as the VPD’s initial response to the inquiry on its use of Stingrays. Pivot’s most recent appeal to the OIPC can be found here, alongside the respective interventions from the BCCLA, BCFIPA and OpenMedia.
It’s clear that we’re slowly making progress toward getting more answers on the use of Stingrays — but we need your support to win this. If you’ve yet to do so, be sure to add your voice to our #StopStingrays campaign at StopStingrays.org to demand transparency and accountability regarding law enforcement’s use of these invasive mass surveillance devices.