Canadian Cops Belatedly Asking For Authorization To Deploy Stingray Devices They've Been Using For Years

from the papering-over-the-lack-of-authorizing-papers dept

Better late than never is the motto of Canadian law enforcement Stingray Squads. Documents obtained by Vice Canada show police scrambling to obtain warrants for equipment they were already deploying.

“Given recent media events my inspector has asked that I make an official request … for an authorization,” writes a member of the Calgary Police Electronic Surveillance Team on April 6 of this year. “There is some urgency to try and get this authorization in place as we are currently using the device.”

The device in question is an International Mobile Subscriber Identity-catcher — known more commonly as an IMSI catcher, a Mobile Device Identifier, or by the brand name Stingray.

The Calgary Police join the rest of the nation's police forces in the officially un-admitted to use of Stingray devices. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the only agency to actually hold a press briefing to announce its use of the controversial devices. All other admissions have been dragged out of agencies, either through court filings or through public records requests.

Perhaps sensing the government's regulators might have a problem with a bunch of unregulated signals, Canadian law enforcement agencies are obtaining "just in case" authorization, even as they state there's nothing legally preventing them from deploying the devices without the Innovation, Science and Economic Development agency's (Canada's FCC equivalent) approval.

In the RCMP’s letter, they argue that ISED doesn’t actually need to approve their IMSI catcher. Nevertheless, they submitted an application.

“The RCMP was first made aware of ISED views on the RCMP’s use of [IMSI catchers] through media coverage in late March 2016,” they RCMP wrote, in requesting “timely” approval to keep using the devices. A second letter, this time from the Ontario Provincial Police, similarly requests permission to use the devices — so similar, in fact, it is nearly word-for-word for the RCMP’s earlier request.

Whether ISED will see post-dated requests as a sign of good faith remains to be seen. But there's no way cops are going to stop deploying Stingrays until proper authorization is obtained. And the top name in IMSI catchers is probably assisting agencies in keeping these devices up and running, even if it might mean playing fast and loose with the facts when asking for approval.

Stingrays are the law enforcement's worst-kept secret -- on both sides of the border. A steady flow of documents that traces all the way back to a person imprisoned for tax crimes has resulted in plenty of public discussion about the privacy implications of cell tower spoofers… but very little in the way of published policies or judicial guidance. Only a couple of US courts have reached the conclusion Stingray deployments are Fourth Amendment searches. On the other side of the border things are just as unsettled.

This isn't a failure of the court system. Instead, it's the result of Stingray best practices -- directly encouraged by federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI: let suspects walk rather than discuss the devices in court. But it's inevitable that more and more info on Stingray use will be divulged in court. And it all starts with paper trails like these belated requests for regulatory clearance.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 8:32pm

    No problem apparently

    I guess the RCMP would have no problem with anyone who wishes to start keeping track of the police there using Stingray type devices. Police using these on civilians seems to be fair so long as the civilians are allowed to use them on the police in return. I'm sure the public would be nice enough to put together a giant database of police and their associated phones along with burners and other phones that show up often tied to those same police.

    If one side can't do it outside of express government permission, the other side should have exactly the same restrictions.

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2017 @ 9:08pm

    It's much easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

    And if you're with the police, chances are you'll get the full blessings from the government, including immunity.

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

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Chalchiuhticuenaabah (profile), 5 Sep 2017 @ 9:46pm

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

  4. icon
    ShadowNinja (profile), 6 Sep 2017 @ 6:59am

    Re: It's much easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

    And this is exactly why judges should send a harsh lesson to the cops and prosecutors by overturning ALL convictions (and plea bargains) obtained through use of the illegal Stingray device they didn't have permission to use.

    Cops and prosecutors won't stop violating our rights in the names of catching criminals unless the courts do something drastic like this.

    (And no, moves like this aren't unprecedented. The US SCOTUS for example has let people who were clearly murderers go free over the justice system blatantly violating their rights to a fair trial)

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

  5. icon
    OA (profile), 6 Sep 2017 @ 7:51am

    Re: It's much easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

    It's much easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

    This was approximately my first thought.

    My second, was that if a character in our stories, movies or tv say (or act out) something like this that person is probably the hero.

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

  6. identicon
    Michael, 6 Sep 2017 @ 8:25am

    “There is some urgency to try and get this authorization in place as we are currently using the device.”

    How is it not a criminal offense to knowingly violate the rights of their citizens?

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2017 @ 11:22am

    Re: Re: It's much easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.

    (And no, moves like this aren't unprecedented. The US SCOTUS for example has let people who were clearly murderers go free over the justice system blatantly violating their rights to a fair trial)

    In Canada, there have recently been lots of charges overturned because of trial delays.

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

  8. icon
    DocRobot (profile), 6 Sep 2017 @ 11:23am

    Canada used to be different then the US.

    I remember when Canada used to be different than the US. We had our unique, relaxed views, politics and policing that were not as crazy as in the US during the end of the last century.

    We started catching up to US levels of Political corruptness, to US Police Policies and all the rest that Canadians in their 30's and older just understand by living through it.

    Now, with Stingray Towers, Drones, RCMP planting or even making terrorists, political madness, etc., Canada is no different than the US in our new race to Screw the Citizens, the very Voters who put the current Federal and Provincial Powers in Power.

    We used to protect the innocent, the average populous from unwarranted (literally) searches like Stingray Hardware brings to whole communities at once.

    I for one am a Sad Canadian...

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2017 @ 11:23am

    Re:

    How is it not a criminal offense to knowingly violate the rights of their citizens?

    Who said it isn't? You just have to find someone willing to prosecute. Canada has a concept of "private prosecution" too.

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


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