Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Vancouver Cops Mum on Use of Covert Cell Phone Surveillance Technology

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Vancouver Cops Mum on Use of Covert Cell Phone Surveillance Technology

Article excerpt

Vancouver cops mum on use of covert cell spy tech

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VANCOUVER - Vancouver police are refusing to disclose whether they use, or have ever considered using, a controversial mass-surveillance device widely adopted in the United States and vigorously condemned by civil liberty groups.

Earlier this year the Vancouver department rebuffed a freedom-of-information request asking for any records about a technology known as Stingray. The department claimed that divulging documents on the topic could compromise the effectiveness of the force's investigative techniques.

Pivot Legal Society, the Vancouver-based advocacy organization that submitted the original access request, has since filed an appeal with the province's information and privacy commissioner.

Stingray is a device that imitates cellular communications towers in order to trick mobile devices within range to connect to it instead. The cell-site simulator is then able to intercept both text and audio communication, as well as extract internal data from connected devices and even pinpoint their precise locations.

"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 American Civil Liberties Union has identified 57 agencies in 22 states that own Stingray devices, though the group said that number likely underrepresents the actual total given how many agencies purchase the technology secretly. Known groups include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.

King said he was especially troubled by American media reports about the Florida-based manufacturer Harris Corp allegedly requiring customers to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to purchase Stingray technology, pledging not to divulge any information about the device or even any interactions with the company.

"I think by saying the mere acknowledgment of its existence puts it at jeopardy is kind of a confirmation of exactly the concern we have about it: that this can only be effective if nobody has any idea they're being watched by the police," he said. …

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