More than a month after the RCMP admitted to using invasive mobile phone spyware technology, the national police are yet to pass information about the program to Parliament’s data protection agency.
Data Protection Commissioner Philippe Dufresne told the House of Commons Ethics Committee that he learned about the RCMP’s Covert Access and Intercept Team and its use of cell phone spyware through media reports in late June.
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The RCMP admitted in June that it had used invasive cell phone hacking techniques in 10 separate investigations between 2018 and 2020. The revelations came in response to a parliamentary question from a Conservative MP and were first reported by Politico.
The force uses on-device investigative tools, or ODITs, which give Mounties the ability to gain “covert and remote” access to target cell phones or other electronic devices. Once secretly installed, these tools allow the RCMP to collect data such as text messages, audio recordings, photos, calendars, financial records – and even sounds picked up by the device’s microphones or images observed by cell phone cameras.
Dufresne told the committee the RCMP conducted a “privacy impact assessment” on spyware use in 2021 — three years after the force said it used the hacking tools in an investigation.
“Are the safety precautions sufficient given this new technology? Or do we have recommendations to make it more secure from a privacy perspective? These tools may be necessary, but do they have a greater impact than warranted from a privacy perspective? … That’s the key question,” Dufresne said.
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Dufresne repeatedly declined to comment on the issue until the RCMP informed his office.
The RCMP stressed that the 10 uses of the invasive spyware were court-approved. The force also strongly suggested the tactic was necessary due to the ubiquity of encrypted communications, which they say complicates their electronic investigations.
“Although police are sometimes able to collect data stored on (encrypted) devices or sent/received using (encrypted) devices, encryption often renders the data unintelligible,” the RCMP said in its disclosure to the Houses of Parliament.
The force went on to say that its “Covert Access and Intercept Team” deploys the spyware when “less intrusive techniques are unsuccessful.” The spyware allows the Mounties to collect data after it is received and decrypted by the target device or collect data before it is encrypted and sent.
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Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and the world’s leading expert on surveillance technology, said Canada is sending a bad signal by allowing its national police force to quietly deploy invasive spyware.
“The Canadian government purports to protect human rights and advocate the rule of law and democracy around the world. The non-public adoption of spyware (and other surveillance technology) runs directly against these principles,” Deibert wrote in a Global News-reviewed Ethics Committee filing.
“By adopting this technology, we are essentially telling authoritarian states — as well as our allies — that we don’t care about those principles.”
The Ethics Committee is due to be heard later Monday by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, as well as senior officials from the RCMP.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/9044296/rcmp-cellphone-hacking-privacy/ RCMP has yet to share information about cell phone spyware programs with the National Privacy Commissioner