Federal police surveillance spyware threatens Canada’s democracy

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki will not disclose if the federal police used spyware to surveil MP’s personal devices, as civil liberties experts denounce the covert collection of Canadians' information.

Federal police surveillance spyware threatens Canada’s democracy
The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick
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As reported by Blacklocks, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki refused to disclose if the RCMP utilized spyware to hack the personal devices of members of Parliament.

In response to a request for that information by the Ethics Committee, Lucki wrote that “information relating to the wiretapping of members of Parliament, Parliamentary Assistance or any other employee of the Parliament of Canada, this information will not be provided by the RCMP.”

Conservative MP Pat Kelly commented on Lucki’s decision. “A committee of Parliament has unfettered powers to request documents. A blanket refusal to a committee is troubling,” he said.

The RCMP confirmed that it has utilized spyware since 2012 to access individuals smartphone microphones and cameras.

When MP’s asked for disclosure on the surveillance of public office holders, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino skirted the question.

A Bloc Québécois MP questioned the assistant RCMP commissioner responsible for national security, Mark Flynn, if consultations ever took place with the federal Commissioner of Privacy to determine if the use of spyware complied with the Privacy Act. “No,” he responded.

This comes as news of the continued surveillance of Canadians by the RCMP is under fire by civil liberties experts, reports CTV News.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics has undertaken a study into the RCMP’s use of on-device investigation tools (ODIT).

During testimony to the House, Canada’s former privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, called the clandestine collection of Canadians' personal information “an extremely intrusive practice.”

“It does not just record communications on the phone between person A and B. It sits on the phone, on the digital device of the individual,” Therrien described.

The spyware is capable of remotely accessing both computer and cell phone microphones, cameras, and other information on suspects' devices.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) calls the continued, undisclosed use of spyware tools “a pattern pointing to a crisis of accountability.”

CCLA’s director of their privacy technology and surveillance program, Brenda McPhail, believes that these privacy concerns infringe on the democratic process. "Operational secrecy is a legitimate need in specific investigations. Secrecy around policies that apply to categories of dangerous surveillance technologies is not legitimate in a democracy.”

Another testimony included that of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab Director Ronald Deibert. He confirmed that the spyware industry is a threat to human rights, civil society, and democracy.

The RCMP refuses to name the specific spyware being used. The government apparently confirmed on Monday that it is not using the controversial software from Israeli Firm NSO Group called “Pegasus.”

Other federal agencies have surveilled Canadians, too; unbeknownst to them. The Public Health Agency conducted unprecedented surveillance of Canadians' private cell phone data in what some may refer to as a national breach of personal security throughout the COVID pandemic.

As a result, privacy and civil liberties experts continue to call for stronger regulation of Canada’s privacy laws.

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