Canada’s privacy commissioner has launched an investigation over concerns that the RCMP might be using Stingray devices to spy on Canadians.
The mass-surveillance technology mimics cell phone towers to covertly intercept text and audio communication, as well extracting personal data and a phone’s location.
Commission spokesperson Tobi Cohen said the Mounties’ refusal to disclose whether the devices were in use prompted the investigation.
Recently, Pivot Legal Society, a Vancouver-based legal advocacy group, submitted a freedom-of-information request asking for records about Stingray use by the Vancouver police. The VPD denied the request.
The group has since filed an appeal to the provincial information and privacy commissioner.
“It’s about police being able to gather information outside of the context of the court system,” said Doug King, the Pivot lawyer who filed the information request. “It’s an incredibly frightening proposition.”
The likelihood of the VPD having used this technology is high, since, if they hadn’t, or at least had no intention of using it in the future, they would have simply told the Pivot Legal Society that no such documents exist.
Instead they gave the same answer other police departments have given:
“We never provide information that may harm the effectiveness of investigative techniques and procedures currently used, or likely to be used, in law enforcement and would not be able to facilitate an interview.”
In other words, trust us, we’re the police.
But if police actions against nonviolent cannabis connoisseurs is of any indication, this denial of a freedom-of-information request should be taken with a big grain of salt.
In theory, police work for the taxpayers, and just because technology has advanced to the point that police can override judicial oversight, doesn’t mean they can or should.
Has Stingray technology been used on cannabis activists? The police response to the peaceful farmer’s market on Canada Day 2015 was unnecessarily violent and aggressive.
What will be their response for this year’s 4/20 event? The party at Sunset Beach likely won’t be a problem, but what of the protest at the Art Gallery?
If it weren’t for certain diehard activists, occupying the property day and night, the city might have successfully put up fencing, forcing the protest out of sight and out of mind.
What if Stingray devices are being used by the VPD, but only on violent criminals? Does that make it okay? And if they’re using it on mobsters, how long until peaceful activists are targeted as well?
Stingray devices don’t discriminate, they track everyone in the area, so it’s up to the police department to locate the individual target.
Today it might be the mob, but tomorrow it could be the guy selling cannabis outside the legal framework the prohibitionists have set up.