Vancouver Police have confirmed the use of “Stingray,” a controversial cell phone snooping device.
Police say they borrowed the tool from the RCMP once, a decade ago, to help with an abduction case.
Initially, the VPD said that it “would neither confirm nor deny” that it held any records and disclosed that it does not possess a Stingray — as provincial inquiries and a freedom of information request from PIVOT Legal Society began to probe for answers.
Since then, VPD has admitted otherwise.
READ MORE: Vancouver Police: we don’t use “Stingray”
But Michael Vonn with the BC Civil Liberties Association says while it appears the VPD followed the rules, she’s concerned there’s no record of the use.
“Presumably they have no memorandum of understanding with the RCMP, they have no policies and procedures in relation to any of this. It’s all done shooting from the hip, presumably, because there’s not a single document that they say that they have in relation to this.”
Firm rules and guidelines should be in place if Stingray is used
The devices, which grab cell phone data from all users within a geographic area, have raised questions about mass surveillance.
Vonn says clear, transparent, national rules are needed to govern the tool’s use.
“We know they’re happening, we know they’ve been in long use, we know there’s been a scattershot program, lets start lobbying for the legislation that will give us the assurance that whoever is using this is using it correctly.”
Vonn says it’s still not clear whether mounties need a warrant to use the tool — and that they may be keeping data on innocent people.
Stingray used in just one extreme circumstance says VPD
VPD Constable Brian Montague says the Stingray was used to serve an important purpose.
“The BCCLA fails to provide context regarding that investigation which is important if you want to understand the role this device played – it was in 2007 as an investigative tool to support a VPD suspected abduction case that is now an investigation into a possible homicide.”
While admitting to its use nearly a decade ago, VPD and Montague maintain that Stingray was borrowed and its use was completely authorized.
“The VPD does not own and has never owned this device …the VPD’s request to the RCMP for assistance in the use of the device was authorized by the Officer in Charge of RCMP E Division Special “I” and based on exigent circumstances. The VPD did not operate the device which was used in an attempt to locate or verify the presence of a specific and known cellular phone owned by the abducted person.”
Reported Stingray use in Canada
The BCCLA and Vonn continue to look into Stingray use and records, with very few details about the device’s use made available.
The association references a Quebec court case about a 2010 RCMP operation codenamed Project Clemenza that provides the bulk of information on Stingray that is publicly available.
According to this case and testimony of those involved as presented by Vonn, Stingray has been used in over 30 different operations, on over 50 different subjects, and RCMP was maintaining a large facility in 2015 to test Stingray and similar technology.