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MPs say the RCMP’s use of spyware ensures that Canada’s privacy laws are up to date

MPs say the RCMP’s use of spyware ensures that Canada’s privacy laws are up to date

The commission’s study has been launched After Politico revealed in June The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has admitted to using spyware for covert surveillance. RCMP has the ability to intercept text messages, emails, photos, videos, and other information from cell phones and laptops, and remotely trigger the device’s camera and microphone.

RCMP officials told the ethics committee that spyware — or device investigation tools, in parlance — has been used in 32 investigations since 2017, targeting 49 devices. They also revealed that the agency had been using similar technology since 2002.

The RCMP did not alert the federal privacy watchdog for its use of spyware, and Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne told the commission he was unaware of the agency’s spyware program until contacted by POLITICO in June.

The first of the nine recommendations by the Ethics Committee would make it an “express obligation” under the Privacy Act for government organizations to conduct and submit privacy impact assessments to the Commissioner before using these “high-risk” tools.

The committee also recommended several other amendments to the Privacy Act, including an amendment stating that privacy is a “fundamental right.” Another would add “explicit transparency requirements” for government organizations, “except where confidentiality is necessary to protect the methods used by law enforcement authorities.”

The report also recommended that the government review Part VI of the Penal Code, which deals with orders to intercept private communications. The RCMP says it only uses spyware in the most serious cases, including investigations into terrorism and drug trafficking, and only with judicial authorization. But at least one of the commission’s witnesses questioned whether the judges had all the training they needed to handle requests to use such invasive technology.

The report concludes, “The Commission is aware that there is a legislative gap with regard to the use of new technological investigative tools.” “Neither Part VI of the Criminal Code nor the Privacy Act are currently adapted to the digital age.”

Most panelists also noted the “lack of cooperation shown by the RCMP in this study,” and said they were “not satisfied” with the agency’s responses. For one thing, the RCMP hasn’t disclosed what kind of spyware it’s using, though police have confirmed it doesn’t use controversial Pegasus software from Israeli company NSO Group.

But the Ethics Committee did not call for a halt to the use of spyware until the “legislative gap” was closed, as several witnesses had recommended.

Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, told Politico that he found the panel’s recommendations “sloppy and disappointing.”

RCMP has a history of embracing new technologies [and] Use it secretly for long periods of time. “And then this shows, it’s a really well-established practice, and the report we get from the committee is: ‘How do we manage what they’re doing?'” “

Parsons said it’s not enough to ask for privacy impact assessments, which aren’t necessarily made public. Government agencies are not legally required to adhere to the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations. “They are not a sufficient tool by themselves,” he said.

Parsons also said the report did not address the question of whether the RCMP had a duty to alert Canadians to software vulnerabilities that police forces might want to exploit using spyware.

“The RCMP has deliberately shortened the public discussion process,” he said. “The commission simply failed, as far as I am concerned.”

However, Brenda MacPhail, program director for privacy, technology and surveillance at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the panel came up with a “strong set” of recommendations.

In particular, she expressed satisfaction with the recommendation that the government establish an independent advisory body that includes members of the legal community, government, police, national security and civil society. The group will review new technologies used by law enforcement authorities and come up with national standards for their use.

A network of laws designed to protect people across Canada from inappropriate and severe interference [technologies]… It was found during these sessions that it was not fit for purpose.”


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