RCMP illegally snooped mobile phones with Stingray device: Watchdog
In this stock photo, a woman uses a smartphone at night on a street. (Getty Images)
OTTAWA — The RCMP illegally scooped up mobile phone data half a dozen times using controversial Stingray devices, the federal privacy watchdog says.
An investigation by the privacy commissioner’s office found that the Mounties now require a judicial warrant for use of the technology, except in emergencies.
The probe also concluded the RCMP was properly hiving off, securing and ultimately destroying the personal information of innocent people collected by the devices.
But the watchdog chastised the national police force for initially refusing to even confirm publicly that it was using the technology, fuelling fears about unnecessary snooping.
The commissioner looked into the RCMP’s use of Stingrays in response to a complaint from public-interest group OpenMedia, which had concerns the Mounties were using the devices to monitor large groups of people and the content of their communications.
The watchdog found the RCMP’s devices were not capable of intercepting voice communications, or email or text messages.
A Stingray device, sometimes called an IMSI catcher, mimics a cellular tower, making all nearby mobile phones connect to it. Identifiers linked to individual phones can then be used to determine their location or owner.
As a result, collection of such data through a Stingray amounts to search and seizure, creating a need for a court-ordered warrant to ensure compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the privacy commissioner found.