The RCMP has admitted for the first time that it uses a controversial piece of technology known as “Stingray” to capture cell phone data.
The revelation comes after a CBC News investigation found the devices being used in Ottawa and Montreal.
Stingrays are technically known as IMEI-catchers, and work by simulating a cellular tower – forcing nearby mobile devices to connect to them.
In a statement, Mounties now admit they used the devices 19 times in 2016 as a part of investigations.
The statement says they are used only to identify and locate suspects’ mobile devices, and that they are only deployed for a short period of time.
“Its use is limited to only the most serious cases, and only when there are grounds to believe that a suspect is using an unknown cell-phone to conduct criminal activities,” reads the statement.
It says other than in “extremely urgent cases,” officers must get a judge’s authorization before the tech can be deployed.
Police say the tools are not used to collect the content of voice or electronic communications, contact lists, or images, and that any data collected that is not relevant to an investigation is destroyed after court proceedings.
Privacy advocates say it’s about time the RCMP fessed up to using the controversial cell phone device.
“Stingray Device can be hugely invasive,” says David Christopher with Open Media.
Christopher says the device can capture text and audio communication within a wide vicinity.
“The type of information that they can collect are things that most people do want to keep private. They basically capture information within range. They may be looking for someone in particular but they are capturing information on all kinds of law-abiding citizens.”
He says this presents a huge privacy risk.
“You can imagine if one was deployed in downtown Vancouver, how thousands of people would have their privacy potentially compromised.”
Last summer, Vancouver Police confirmed they had used the device at least once a decade ago.
With files from Emily Lazatin