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Police refusal to deny use of StingRays to spy on cell phone data should trigger investigation by Privacy Commissioner

Police forces across the country appear to be violating the privacy rights of Canadians, sweeping up massive amounts of private cell phone data with the use of powerful StingRay surveillance devices. 

December 15, 2015–  Police forces across the country appear to be violating the privacy rights of Canadians, sweeping up massive amounts of private cell phone data with the use of powerful StingRay surveillance devices.

OpenMedia believes an independent investigation by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is needed after Canada’s two largest police forces, the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police, refused to deny using the devices. The Vancouver Police Department also recently refused to answer a similar enquiry, leaving innocent Canadians concerned about the vulnerability and lack of privacy of their daily communications.

“StingRays are incredibly powerful surveillance tools, and citizens have a right to know if and how extensively they are being used in Canada,” says OpenMedia’s Digital Rights Specialist Laura Tribe. “Police forces wouldn’t be stonewalling like this if these devices were not actually in use. That’s why we need the Privacy Commissioner to step in and conduct and independent investigation — we need to understand the facts to ensure our Charter rights are protected.”

The StingRay (technically known as an IMSI catcher) simulates cell phone towers in order to trick nearby mobile phones into connecting to them and revealing their locations. Large groups of people can be monitored, and their mobile phones’ incoming and outgoing calls can be recorded. The surveillance device is also capable of intercepting the content of voice and text communications, and even of extracting the encryption keys people use to protect their data.
More background about the StingRay device is available here.

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.

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