Canadian Law Enforcement Admit -- And Then Deny -- They Own A Stingray Device

from the stingr-eh? dept

Stingrays are now as common as cockroaches in the United States, but we haven't heard much about their use by Canadian law enforcement. A denial or a confirmation would be nice, but not strictly necessary. It's safe to assume anything US cops can get, Canadian law enforcement can obtain as well.

Earlier this month, Vice's Motherboard revealed the first confirmation of Stingray use by a local law enforcement agency. (The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have owned and operated Stingray devices for most of the last ten years.)

According to the BC Civil Liberties Association, which posted a blog announcing the news on Monday, the Vancouver police used an IMSI catcher once, nearly a decade ago, and without a warrant.

“We sent a letter asking the Vancouver police if they’d ever used one of the RCMP’s IMSI catchers, and if they would again,” said Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BCCLA. “The answer to both questions was yes.”

So just once? A decade ago? The Vancouver PD sounds about as credible as a presidential candidate being questioned about past drug use. Still, the Vancouver PD insists it has no files on Stingray use, despite admitting to using a Stingray.

However, the Vancouver PD sounds way more credible than the Edmonton Police, which can't even get its spokespeople on the same page. On August 11, the Edmonton Police told Motherboard this:

On Thursday afternoon, Edmonton police spokesperson Anna Batchelor sent me an email saying, “I’m able to confirm the Edmonton Police Service owns a Stingray device and has used the device in the past during investigations.”

This was another first. Vancouver law enforcement -- according to what had been told to Motherboard -- didn't own the Stingray it used. It borrowed the device from the RCMP and was instructed on how to use it by a Mountie tech.

Several hours later, the Edmonton PD wasn't so sure it owned and/or deployed an IMSI catcher.

On Friday, I received a call from Superintendent Terry Rocchio of the Edmonton police, who delivered a frantic and conflicting message: the Edmonton police do not own a Stingray, he said, and Batchelor’s confirmation was the result of internal miscommunications. He was very sorry for the misinformation, he said.

Combined with the previous statement, it appears as though Edmonton PD superintendent Terry Rocchio is apologizing for his own words, which certainly gives the appearance of being misinformation. Further statements released by the Edmonton PD claim the department does not own a Stingray but, again, this is at odds with the unexpectedly straightforward statement given to Motherboard in response to its original query.

Now, it could be that Edmonton law enforcement did the same thing Vancouver's did and borrowed it from the nearest RCMP bug shop. Or it could be that this is just the Canadian version of playing along with non-disclosure agreements. Most agencies contacted by Motherboard refused to comment. Others refused to confirm or deny. And the one agency that DID say it had a Stingray now says it doesn't.

Given the opacity surrounding local law enforcement use/ownership of these devices, it's probably safe to say they've been deployed without warrants and hidden from judges, defendants, and -- quite possibly -- local legislators. Months or years from now, Motherboard may have a more complete answer, but for now, this appears to be Canadian law enforcement scrambling to stave off some inevitable discoveries.


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  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 18 Aug 2016 @ 3:49am

    When those entrusted with enforcing the laws decide that laws are for the little people and they are above said laws.

    Then those laws cease to exist for all.

    A rule of law requires everyone is treated equally or no one can be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 18 Aug 2016 @ 5:13am

    One has to wonder if when purchasing a Stingray from Harris Corp that a non disclosure agreement is always part of the sales agreement no matter what.

    So if the RCMP and other Law Enforcement agencies in Canada are using Stingray devices in investigations, why is it that no defense counsel or media have never heard of their use in any cases?

    I would suffice to guess that if Canadian Law Enforcement agencies are using Stingray's in criminal investigations that the use of Stingray is not being disclosed to defense counsel.

    There have a ton of cases in the U.S. where Law Enforcement agencies have not disclosed the use of a Stingray, and the reasoning was it was never disclosed until found out.

    IMHO it would safe to assume that if Canadian Law Enforcement agencies are using Stingray devices that they as well are not disclosing that fact or have convinced Judges to seal the record of a Stingray being used.

    The fact that no Canadian criminal trial lawyers associations have come out publicly about a Stingray being used in an investigation where charges are brought forth leads me to believe that defense lawyers know of a Stingray's use, or they have no clue because it isnt being disclosed.

    When searching Canadian media sites to see if reporters are digging deeper into the use of Stingray device by Canadian law enforcement agencies, there really isnt any reporting of this going on only what has been reported by motherboard and Techdirt and re blurbed by some Canadian media.

    Maybe the media up in the great white north doesnt like to ruffle the feathers of Law Enforcement too much

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 18 Aug 2016 @ 6:20am

    "Vancouver police used an IMSI catcher once, nearly a decade ago, and without a warrant."

    Yeah... and Bill Clinton didn't inhale.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike (profile), 18 Aug 2016 @ 6:38am

    > from the stingr-eh? dept

    I liked this. Well played Tim

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2016 @ 7:20am

    Non Disclosure Agreements

    Wow, I didn't know that a NDA written by just an "ordinary" company could hold so much weight that it could keep the use of its' illegal product out of court. Every business needs to have an NDA for every product and then there wouldn't be any product liability suits. HA!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    all your nsa tools are belong to us, 18 Aug 2016 @ 7:28am

    @5

    well if you fnd out that a warrant was required then its an illegal act that they then can drag them all into court and ask the queston ...is this the sole intent of said device to do warrantless wiretapping against current law?

    and im gonna bet they ( RCMP ) do not want to be seen as criminals now do they

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2016 @ 7:42am

    When Canadian pathological honesty meets iron-clad NDA rules, surprised they didn't have a full on melt-down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2016 @ 9:57am

    Second statement likely technically correct

    My guess is that when the Edmonton PD made the first statement, it was because they had an IMSI catcher and had used it on numerous occasions.

    However, the catcher is likely not a Singray, but a different brand, and is likely owned by the RCMP, not the Edmonton PD. So after he made that statement, someone from the RCMP probably calmly informed him that no, the Edmonton PD does not own their IMSI catcher, and it isn't even a Stingray anyway, and so he should deny ownership of the device if he wants to be allowed to keep using it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Aug 2016 @ 10:02am

    Telling response

    For something like this the standard and sleazy 'We can neither confirm nor deny...' should be treated as an admission that yes, they do have at the least access to the devices and have used them.

    If they didn't have the devices and/or hadn't used them, they'd say so upfront. "No we do not have, no have used a stingray or anything similar to it." It's simple, easy, and heads off a whole lot of headaches from both sides as people dig in and try to find out the truth.

    On the other hand what do they get from saying "We can neither confirm nor deny" if they don't have or use the devices? As a non-answer it's useless at addressing the question and will just get people to dig more, meaning even more work down the line for them. As such as far as I can tell the only reason to go that route is if they do in fact have and/or use such devices, and don't want to admit it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2016 @ 10:26am

      Re: Telling response

      They could also go that route if they haven't spent the time to investigate if anyone has actually used one. If they make that the blanket statement for ALL investigative technology, then they have a lot less paperwork and communication to be responsible for, and if it later turns out someone was using a device that had been asked about, they don't get into the situation where someone gives an incorrect statement (like happened here) and then has to back out of it in front of the media/courts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 18 Aug 2016 @ 2:29pm

    So in summary someone made a mistake and said the Edmonton force "owns" a stingray when they don't?

    The police forces here are pretty cooperative with each other, it really doesn't make much difference who technically owns the device. The RCMP could own it and have it basically in Edmonton full time. Not owning one and not having one are two different things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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