Parliamentary committee investigates RCMP’s use of mobile phone spyware

A parliamentary committee will begin exploring the RCMP’s use of spyware on Monday, delving into an issue that has raised alarm bells for privacy and civil liberties groups across the country.

The House of Commons ethics and privacy committee called for a summer study after the RCMP revealed its use of tools that covertly obtain data from devices such as phones and computers.

In response to a written question presented in the House of Commons in June, the RCMP revealed that it had obtained court orders to use tools that collect text messages and emails and can remotely turn on cameras and microphones in 10 investigations.

“We’re talking about the most intrusive thing there is,” said privacy and technology attorney David Fraser.

“This would be like an order allowing police to put on an invisibility cloak and sit on your living room couch or on your nightstand.”

Fraser said that’s why a high level of scrutiny should be applied to requests for this type of injunction.

“I think part of the important discussion that should take place here … would be to make sure that any technique that is as intrusive as this is held to the highest standard of probable cause and that the police should convince the judge that other techniques They’ve been tried and failed.”

As an alternative approach, Fraser said the committee could look at the methods used when Canada’s Security Intelligence Service seeks a warrant for its investigations.

“(CSIS officials) go to a bunker in Ottawa and meet in what amounts to a secret courtroom,” he said. “It is the appointed judges of the Federal Court who, ex parte, meaning without anyone on the other side, review requests for warrants under the CSIS Act which can be incredibly intrusive.”

Police expert and Queen’s University professor Christian Leuprecht said technological change is outpacing the legal framework and politicians are often unwilling to step in and adjust policies to help keep up.

Parliamentary committee to begin study of the use of #CellphoneSpyware by #RCMP. #CDNPoli #Spyware

“This is the kind of problem that requires politicians to sit down and say, ‘Okay, we have this technology, this is how we decide they’re allowed to use it,'” he said.

Leuprecht agreed that there should be a high level of scrutiny over the types of technology police use, particularly given the RCMP’s power of arrest and detention.

“The Communications Security Establishment, this is a high-tech agency that is very well versed in how to use data and technology,” Luprecht said. “While you could say that with the RCMP, that’s not their main bread and butter, so there’s a much higher risk that the RCMP could make the wrong decision, draw the wrong inferences.”

The committee has the opportunity to decide whether the current laws are sufficient to protect the privacy of Canadians. You could decide that the RCMP needs to submit annual reports for greater transparency.

Police use of surveillance technology is generally kept secret, Fraser said, and he would like to see a framework in place so that new technology has to undergo independent scrutiny.

“I have no comfort in imagining what is the process currently adopted by law enforcement in Canada to determine the appropriateness of the use of certain technologies.”

Brenda McPhail, director of the privacy, technology and surveillance program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, issued a statement in late June asking a series of questions about how technology is used and why the commissioner of security was not consulted. privacy about its implementation.

“What tools are being used and who supplies them?” McPhail wrote. “Are you one of the many spyware vendors known to sell these kinds of tools to authoritarian states that use them to target human rights defenders and journalists?”

Fraser said that’s another important issue for the committee to consider.

“If the police can remotely access someone’s smartphone, that means there’s something wrong with that smartphone that the police are exploiting and bad guys can exploit too,” he said.

The “ethical” thing to do in that case, Fraser said, is for police or spy agencies to report such loopholes to smartphone makers.

“They’re never going to do that unless they’re told,” he said.

Witnesses set to appear during the scheduled two days of hearings include Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino, the current federal privacy commissioner and his deputy, and RCMP officials who oversaw the use of spyware.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 7, 2022.

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