Canada's National Police Force Officially Confirms Ownership, Use Of Stingray Devices

from the if-it-wasn't-for-those-meddling-journalists... dept

Just days after Montreal prosecutors cut loose 35 suspected Mafia members rather than disclose the details of Stingray device use by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the RCMP is admitting that, yes, it does use Stingrays.

It's not like it's not known the RCMP owns Stingrays. It has for nearly a decade now. It's just that it would rather not discuss it in court… or in public… or in public records responses.

The official revelation occurred in Ontario, and it didn't come as the result of a multitude of alleged criminals being released back into the general population. Instead, the (unwelcome) discussion of the RCMP's cell tower spoofers was prompted by a CBC investigation into "suspicious signals" and apparent cell phone tracking around the nation's capital.

The RCMP for the first time is publicly confirming it uses cellphone surveillance devices in investigations across Canada — but at the same time says the potential of unauthorized snooping in Ottawa, as reported by CBC News, poses a threat to national security.

"Absolutely," RCMP Chief Supt. Jeff Adam, who is in charge of technical investigations services, said in an unprecedented technical briefing Wednesday with reporters from CBC News, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

The RCMP held the briefing in the wake of a CBC News investigation that found evidence that devices known as IMSI catchers may be in use near government buildings in Ottawa for the purpose of illegal spying.

The RCMP Superintendent was quick to point out that if it was the agency's Stingrays the journalists discovered, there was nothing illegal about the spying. But he can't be sure there aren't others out there with the same equipment, doing the same sort of things the RCMP does, but without judicial permission. It has decided to join the news agencies' investigation of the "suspicious signals," which sounds a whole lot like the old joke about heroin addicts:

What's the difference between a thief and a junkie?

A thief will just steal your money. A junkie will help you look for it.

The RCMP let the public in on a few of its Stingray secrets during the press briefing [PDF]. It owns ten devices and claims that all but one deployment (in 2016) has been accompanied by a warrant. Much like those in use in the US, the Stingray's software only allows for the interception of phone numbers and device location (even though they all can be retrofitted to intercept calls and communications).

Discussions of earlier use show the warrant requirement wasn't always a requirement.

Police used to apply for a general warrant to use the technology. In 2015, Adam said there was a period of at least six months — between March and October — when the RCMP didn't seek a warrant at all, acting on advice from the Department of Justice and government prosecutors.

The use of the term "general warrant" suggests those signing off on warrant requests were likely not aware of the devices being deployed to perform the search. Law enforcement agencies have been hiding the existence of cell tower spoofers for years, starting with the judges approving their warrants and subpoenas. In the US, the FBI's own "Stingray Best Practices" instructed law enforcement agencies to lie to judges -- most of which took the form of pen register requests, rather than search warrants detailing the wholesale harvesting of cell phone numbers by repurposed military equipment.

Also admitted during this briefing was the fact that the RCMP didn't seek approval from the Canadian government's FCC equivalent, ISED.

Adam conceded that until two months ago the RCMP itself failed to get express approval to use MDIs from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED, formerly Industry Canada), the government body responsible for regulating technology that might interfere with wireless communications.

He said the RCMP believed at one point that an exemption introduced in early 2015 to the Radiocommunications Act allowing the use of cellular "jammers" might also exempt the use of MDIs — but ISED ultimately disagreed.

Apparently, the world of law enforcement is so fast-moving, there's no time to seek the proper clearances, even when you've had the devices in hand for nearly a decade before double-checking things with regulators. Again, pretty much identical to how things were handled here in the US. Blue minds think alike, or whatever.

With this limited (but public) disclosure, maybe the RCMP will pursue more prosecutions to the very end, rather than play catch-and-release with suspected criminals so that its not-all-that-secret secrets don't end up in defendants' hands.

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Filed Under: canada, imsi catcher, stingray

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2017 @ 3:11pm

    Turn about

    So in other words, the Canadian police force, would have no problem with their populace using the same thing to verify they are doing their jobs?

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2017 @ 3:38pm

    Canadian Cops don't have to worry about the 4th Amendment or FCC regulations.

    (most American cops don't seem to worry about it either)

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

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2017 @ 4:29pm

    Re: Turn about

    Mostly yes actually, although they hate when civilians have radar guns.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2017 @ 5:01pm

    Re: Turn about

    I think you missed the part where the RCMP officer in charge of the program said "it's not illegal if WE do it, but we're interested in investigating and stopping anyone else who does so."

    They have no problem with anyone who has a proper warrant from using the same thing. If you can get such a warrant, feel free to do so :)

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

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2017 @ 5:03pm


    Canadian Cops DO have to worry about the charter of rights and freedoms and ISED regulations, plus federal and provincial privacy laws which are significantly stricter than what's available in the US. With the right court order, they can likely get around all of those, but finding the correct court order without making a public fuss could be rather difficult.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2017 @ 5:36pm

    Re: Re:

    "Canadian Cops DO have to worry about the charter of rights and freedoms and ISED regulations, plus federal and provincial privacy laws which are significantly stricter than what's available in the US."

    Except that this article and their admissions accordingly make it clear they DONT have to worry. So which is "bro" law and order, or just tyranny? cause...

    ♫its starting to look a lot like tyranny... everywhere I go♫

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

  7. icon
    Peter (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 5:00am

    Isn't it amazing how the same people that tell us 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' seem to be obsessed with keeping their own secrets?

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

  8. icon
    DannyB (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 6:07am

    Just to repeat my hypothesis

    Remember the recent story of the emergency sirens that were so easily set off by a childishly simple method?

    I think this is the big secret of stingray. This is why they want to keep it secret so badly that they will let criminals go free rather than let stingray be scrutinized in open court.

    Hypothesis 1: stingray is based on some fundamental weakness in the cellular system that is so severe that if it became generally known, every high school kid would build a stingray.

    Because of the severity of the weakness, the defense could argue in court that someone else created the network traffic (calls, messages, etc) which the stingray intercepted, thus pulling the rug from under the prosecution.

    Hypothesis 2: The exploit may involve secret keys, stolen credentials and other things that mobile operators would sue over, or inform law enforcement over, if they knew what was used in stingray. Using stingray may actually be illegal. This would explain parallel construction, NDAs, etc.

    In this case, the defense could argue that the evidence against the defendant was obtained by illegal means, breaking the law.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Champion, 11 Apr 2017 @ 6:36am

    the outlaws support club got busted

    a support club of the outlaws got busted up some 60 people had over 250000 calls monitored....

    ya that kinda makes you know what they are up to...
    the fact is they use this example as the reason why they have and use them but after getting them the abuse begins....due to lack of oversight...

    if i got something to tell someone i never use a phone...and it isn't about me doing anything wtong or right...

    it does tell you a certain bike club is retarded

    there people even used snapchat on phones not relaising how vulnerable the STUPIDphones are

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

  10. identicon
    Anon, 11 Apr 2017 @ 7:33am

    Just a correction...

    The RCMP *have* let people walk rather than discuss Stingray. In fact, a major mafia investigation in Quebec resulted in most charges being dropped recently rather than reveal how the cell signals were intercepted.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 7:52am

    Canada Rights

    the "Canadian Charter of Rights" is vague and not comparable to U.S. 4th Amendment

    Charter says: "Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure." But, unlike the 4th Amendment, Charter does not define "reasonable" -- the Canadian Government is totally free to define "reasonable" any way they want. And we know that even with a strictly stated 4th Amendment text -- the U.S. Government twists that text interpretation to grant itself extremely broad search & seizure power (e.g., TSA 'authority' at airports).

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

  12. icon
    The Wanderer (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 8:28am

    Re: Canada Rights

    As I've just been arguing over in a thread on the latest article about Kim Dotcom, the Fourth Amendment does not actually define "reasonable" explicitly; instead, it includes a clause about warrants, without saying anything about what warrants have to do with searches or reasonability.

    It is up to the reader to infer any connection between those two, and although it's well-established in the courts that warrants imply reasonability, many people (and courts) have concluded that reasonability can and does exist without warrants in some cases.

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

  13. identicon
    JUDITH HARROWER, 13 Apr 2017 @ 7:00am


    This matter concerns the "ingrained" attitude of the RCMP which is consistent their mind set. Keeping tabs on civilians established years ago have taken various forms and which do not provide reliable information. During the cold war even Tommy Douglas was investigated and a file established on his activities. Then with every new technological device that comes out the boys in red serge jump on it and use it on anyone (said to be training purposes) but when found out the usual response is to deny, make excuses or ignore the question - all of which is put down to 'national security'. Making a mountain out of either a molehill or non existent the use of such devices is almost useless as there are so few spies in Canada searching for our national information. We are not a major player on the world military stage - how old are the helicopters, the aging naval ships, the actual working of the five subs bough from the UK? Do we have civil unrest? Terrorist plots from abroad? Just two homegrown idiots who took action which has resulted in vast amounts spent. Then Moncton killings of the RCMP officers was not a terrorist act but was far more deadly than the two labelled as terrorist instances. Suggestion to the Mounties better in-depth training, working openly with all law enforcement agencies, proper updated equipment, would be safer features rather than spying!

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

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