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Home LATEST NEWS RCMP's use of spyware ensures Canada's privacy laws are up-to-date, say MPs

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

Committee study launched after POLITICO was revealed in June that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had 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 to remotely turn on a device’s camera and microphone.

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

The RCMP had not alerted the federal privacy watchdog about the use of spyware, and Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne told the committee he was not aware of the agency’s spyware program until POLITICO became aware of it. reported in June.

The first of nine ethics committee recommendations would make it an “explicit obligation” under the Privacy Act for government institutions to conduct privacy impact assessments and submit them to the commissioner before using such “high-risk” tools. .

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

The report also recommends that the government review Part VI of the Penal Code, which deals with warrants for the interception of private communications. The RCMP says it only uses spyware in the most serious cases, including terrorism and drug investigations, and only with court authorization. But at least one of the committee witnesses questioned whether judges have all the training they need to handle requests to use such invasive technology.

“The committee recognizes that there is a legislative vacuum regarding the use of new technological investigative tools,” the report concludes. “Neither Part VI of the Penal Code nor the Privacy Law are currently adapted to the digital age.”

Most committee members 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, the RCMP has not revealed what type of spyware it uses, although the police force has confirmed that it does not use the controversial Pegasus software from the Israeli company NSO Group.

But the ethics committee did not call for a moratorium on the use of spyware until the “legislative vacuum” had been filled, as several witnesses had recommended.

Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, tells POLITICO that he found the committee’s recommendations “grumpy and disappointing.”

“The RCMP has a history of adopting innovative technologies [and] secretly using them for long periods of time,” he said. “So this comes out, it’s already established practice, and the report we get from the committee is, ‘How do we handle what they’re doing?'”

Parsons said it’s not enough to require privacy impact assessments, which aren’t necessarily made public. Government agencies are also not legally required to comply with the privacy commissioner’s recommendations. “They are not a sufficient instrument in themselves,” he said.

Parsons also said the report did not address the issue of whether the RCMP has a duty to alert Canadians to software vulnerabilities that the police force may want to exploit using spyware.

“The RCMP has deliberately short-circuited a public discussion process,” he said. “The committee has just failed, as far as I’m concerned.”

However, Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s privacy, technology and surveillance program, said the committee came up with a “robust set” of recommendations.

In particular, she welcomed the recommendation that the government establish an independent advisory body that would include members of the legal community, government, police, national security, and civil society. The group would review new technologies used by law enforcement and develop national standards for their use.

“The web of laws intended to protect people across Canada from inappropriate and deeply invasive attacks. [technologies]… it has been shown during these hearings that they really are not fit for purpose,” he said.



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