Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Time to Crack Down on 'Stingrays'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Time to Crack Down on 'Stingrays'

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Time to crack down on 'stingrays'


An editorial from the Toronto Star, published March 7:

How reassuring it was when the Toronto Police Service told the Star two years ago that it did not use so-called stingrays, controversial and highly invasive surveillance devices also known as IMSI catchers. Privacy experts have long warned these tools, which indiscriminately record data from the cellphones of all those nearby, are overused, under-regulated and shrouded in troubling secrecy. If only the force had been telling the truth.

As the Star reported this week, documents obtained with difficulty through an access-to-information request show that Toronto police used the device in five separate investigations dating back to 2010. Asked why the force misled the public and never corrected the record, Mark Pugash, head of communications for the service, said frankly, "We should have."

Clearly. Yet when it comes to the use of stingrays in Canada, secrecy and deception are the troubling norm. The TPS is among many state actors, at every level of government, that has been consistently and alarmingly secretive about how frequently these invasive tools are being employed and what rules govern their use. Nor is the TPS alone in having denied using them at all, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The secrecy around IMSI catchers and the regulatory vacuum in which they are used are cause for grave concern. A 2016 report by two Canadian privacy scholars, Christopher Parsons and Tamir Israel, argued that the devices "pose a particularly insidious threat to real-world anonymity" and government opacity on the issue is "delaying important public debates."

For years, police and security agencies have refused to answer questions from journalists and parliamentarians about the use of these tools. Mayor John Tory, for instance, says he didn't know Toronto police were using stingrays until last year, when an investigation into death threats against him employed the tool. …

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