RCMP revealed to be indefinitely retaining the private data of innocent Canadians swept up through indiscriminate Stingray surveillance
Fresh revelations about RCMP Stingray use come against backdrop of ongoing federal Privacy Commissioner investigation into the invasive cell phone surveillance technology
June 10, 2016: Today it was revealed that the RCMP has been indefinitely retaining the private data of innocent Canadians swept up through its use of Stingray cell phone surveillance devices over the past 10 years. The revelation — reported by Motherboard following the lifting of a court publication ban — comes against the backdrop of an ongoing investigation by the federal Privacy Commissioner into RCMP use of Stingrays.
Stingrays, technically known as IMSI-catchers, mimic cell phone towers and are designed to collect information from every cell phone in a given area, including geo-location and content data. No Canadian police force has publicly admitted using Stingrays, although many of their U.S. counterparts have done so.
“It’s clear from these court documents that the RCMP has been using this invasive surveillance technology for years, while doing everything in their power to prevent Canadians from finding out,” said OpenMedia’s digital rights specialist Laura Tribe. “It’s particularly disturbing that the RCMP is indefinitely storing the private identifying information of thousands of Canadians, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Tribe continued: “This reckless behaviour and blatant disrespect for the privacy of innocent Canadians has no place in a free and democratic society. Canadian law enforcement agencies have been giving us the runaround on this issue for too long – we deserve answers. The federal government needs to implement regulations for transparency, accountability, and data management requirements to govern any potential use of these devices by police.”
Among the key points revealed today are:
The RCMP operated Stingray devices at ranges of up to two kilometres, capturing data from all cell phones within that radius, meaning thousands of innocent people would have been surveilled.
The RCMP retained data it captured from all devices, including those of innocent bystanders, in contrast to the U.S. practice of destroying data once investigations have concluded. The RCMP refused to comment on whether officers are able to search through this database of retained information.
The RCMP purchased its first Stingray device in 2005, and have recently purchased additional devices with improved capabilities.
A single officer, Josh Rochdale, testified that he had 300 hours experience operating Stingrays in the field.
The Motherboard article quotes expert Tamir Israel of CIPPIC as saying: “Now, we’re seeing them become tools of general use. Clearly, they’ve been planning for some time to use them for day-to-day mass policing.”
Over time, the RCMP cut corners in training officers how to use the devices. Instead of a full week of training, officers were trained in the field.
The RCMP authorized itself to deploy Stingrays, rather than seeking judicial authorization for specific deployments.
Nearly 40,000 people are calling for an end to invasive Stingray surveillance at StopStingrays.org