Don’t miss the petition from Open Media at the bottom, please stop these public servants from SERVING AND PROTECTING THEMSELVES!!, if this doesn’t work, watch they don’t just bust into your house….
Let’s have a public inquiry, maybe that would make a few hundred recommendations that don’t get implemented, placate the herd, those not yet locked up?
After all, the police are almost always believed in court…because they’re all honest, they don’t get together and vet their notes or get lawyers before they make their notes either…oops, they’re allowed, they’re ABOVE THE LAW.
Calls for more transparency and accountability from law enforcement using Stingray devices are reaching a fever pitch. It has now been revealed that police use of Stingray devices (also known as IMSI Catchers, or Mobile Device Identifiers) can potentially prevent urgent 911 calls from being transmitted to emergency service operators. A 2011 memo recently reported on in the Globe and Mail shows that police were aware of the problem and tried to mitigate the issue but admitted that there was a risk that they could not eliminate.
This risk is on top of the severe privacy invasiveness of this technology, which essentially pretends to be a cell tower and captures information from every cell phone in the vicinity of the device, indiscriminately. It is impossible to target just one particular cell phone user with these devices. That means that to intercept the information of an individual under investigation, the information of every single person in the same area is also captured.
So, we know IMSI catchers are highly privacy invasive, and now we know that they may interfere with emergency calls for help. What we don’t know is much about the ways these risks are being assessed and managed. While the memo discussed in the Globe article supplies more information than has ever been public before about the ways detectives were instructed regarding IMSI use, it is five years old. And it was not released in response to public concern; it was obtained by journalists digging through thousands of pages of disclosure documents from the recent Montreal court case litigated by CCLA board vice president Frank Addario. This case was the first to confirm that police in Canada were, in fact, using Stringray technology.
Canadians deserve more accountability and transparency from those who protect our public safety. No police forces are willing to publicly discuss their use of IMSI catchers, claiming that doing so would hamper their ability to use the technology effectively. But since it’s no longer a secret that these technologies are being used, there is no reason not to provide some genuine reassurance that they are being used with appropriate respect for Canadians’ rights. Are they used only after judicial review? What are the safeguards to avoid looking at, and immediately delete, all of the data collected from innocent people who happen to travel within range of the surveillance? Does the technology used in 2016 still block 911 calls? What is being done about that?
Of course, the big question is whether this technology should be used at all given the profound risks it creates? But that is a question that could more appropriately be debated when the information necessary to make an informed decision has been released. We deserve to know that the tools used by our public safety officials are, in fact, doing more to keep us safe than they are to cause hidden harms. It is time for transparency and accountability.
Frequently Asked Questions about IMSI Catchers (a.k.a. Stingrays)
1. What is an IMSI Catcher?
An IMSI Catcher, or a Mobile Device Identifier (MDI), or a Stingray, are names for the same kind of surveillance device. A Stingray is actually a particular brand of this surveillance technology, but kind of like ‘Kleenex’ is often used in conversation for all tissues, ‘Stingray’ is increasingly used when discussing all IMSI catchers. The device is used to intercept cell phone traffic for surveillance purposes.
2. How does it work?
The device is about the size of a suitcase and can be carried around in a vehicle. It mimics a cell phone tower with a strong signal, essentially tricking phones into redirecting their traffic to go through it. Because the IMSI catcher exploits a feature of the way the network itself works, it is very difficult, almost impossible, for a phone user to detect when their phone signal is being intercepted.
Every cell phone has unique digital identifiers (such as the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI) as well as having a phone number and other metadata including location information. Some IMSI catchers are able to collect not just the identifier information or metadata, but also the content from the phone, including calls, texts, and emails.
3. Who uses IMSI Catchers?
The primary users of IMSI Catchers are law enforcement. We know very little in Canada about who uses them or how they are used, however, because police bodies have refused to confirm or deny their use on the grounds that doing so could impede their ability to conduct effective investigations.
4. Why are they controversial?
IMSI Catchers collect data indiscriminately—you can’t target just one particular cell phone user with these devices, they scoop up the information of all users in the vicinity of the surveillance device. That means that to intercept the information of an individual under investigation, the information of every single person in the same area is also captured. This is profoundly privacy invasive.
This level of invasion is made even more troublesome when combined with the lack of transparency regarding their use, and the concomitant lack of accountability measures that would reassure the public that the technology is being used lawfully and with due attention to rights and safeguards.
Another concern, which has arisen in the United States but may also apply here, is that the suppliers of these devices have asked police forces to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of their purchase. This effectively gives the commercial vendor a great deal of power to control what the public is allowed to know about technologies purchased with public funds, and used for public safety.
5. What does CCLA think about IMSI catchers?
CCLA calls for accountability and transparency in the use of these devices. There is over-riding public interest in assuring that these devices being used with appropriate judicial approval after a warrant process in which police are honest and forthcoming about the risks of their use; that there are appropriate safeguards in place to mitigate risks; that these safeguards are public so that they can be evaluated; and that the devices are only used in compliance with the principles of necessity and proportionality as part of a targeted investigation that has a process for immediately deleting all information collected incidental to the surveillance.
6. Where can I go to learn more about IMSI catchers?
- Privacy International has a good resource to learn more about how Stingrays work: https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/76
- Pivot Legal began the Canadian search for answers on Stingray use: http://www.pivotlegal.org/stingrays_blog
- Journalist Colin Freeze in the Globe and Mail revealed the 911 Call Problem in an informative article: www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/rcmp-listening-tool-capable-of-knocking-out-911-calls-memo-reveals/article29672075/
- Our Privacy Coalition Partners Open Media have a petition about Stingray use: https://stopstingrays.org/