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Former Canadian privacy watchdog 'surprised' by RCMP spyware program

Canada's former Privacy Commissioner learned that the RCMP used "intrusive" spyware technology to monitor suspects' encrypted devices for years. “I was surprised,” he said.

And Daniel Therrien, who served as Commissioner for Privacy from 2014 until 2022, said that he had hacked 49 devices since 2017. I confirmed that his office had not been informed of the program. While chasing targets suspected of serious crimes like terrorism and murder.

Read more: RCMP used spyware to access target communications since 2002: Terrien Tuesday , told the House Ethics Committee, "I was amazed at the tool itself and how intrusive it was and how long it had been in use."

“There has certainly been a lot of discussion over the years … about the issue of ‘lawful access’. I followed the discussion of and was part of it...but using this particular tool to circumvent encryption.Yes, it was a surprise.”

The RCMP revealed to Congress in June that it uses what it calls an "on-device investigation tool," or ODIT, or empowering spyware. In addition to collecting data such as text messages and emails, it uses various surveillance techniques such as remotely listening to your device's microphone and activating your camera. Police said electronic surveillance of this kind took place 10 times between 2017 and 2018.

In a letter to the commission released on Monday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lackey said that between 2017 and 2022 he revised the number to 32 and 49. Monitored device.

Racchi said that police use investigative techniques only in the most serious cases, and that "if approved by a judge who expressly authorizes the use of her ODIT on a particular suspect's device, It was used only for  Of her 32 cases submitted to the Commission by the RCMP, eight were terrorism-related, six were trafficking-related, and five were homicide investigations.

However, civil society groups and privacy advocates argue that Canada should not be involved in the "mercenary spyware" market, which targets activists, dissidents, politicians and journalists around the world.

Comparing this type of spyware to traditional wiretapping is a good way to compare nuclear weapons to conventional weapons, says Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and an expert in surveillance technology. He said it's like comparing it to

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"For example, NSO Group's Pegasus Spyware provides unfettered access to the entire pattern of a target's life.Spyware functionality includes encrypted apps (passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, etc.) It includes access to all the contents of the phone, the ability to download files, the ability to listen to the phone, and the ability to track location.Remotely turn on/off the camera and microphone," Deibert told the committee. stated in the written submission of

Although RCMP denies using Pegasus, which is just the most notorious and well-known version of spyware on the market, RCMP's ODIT program has many of the same features. is included. The RCMP declined to disclose which company purchased the spyware.

"For their activities to be legitimate and lawful, Canadian law enforcement agencies must explain what investigative techniques they use and under what authority." ' writes Deibert.

“The covert recruitment and use of invasive surveillance technology undermines public confidence in law enforcement and threatens democracy and the rule of law more generally. It is worth noting that despite the spyware's nuclear-level capabilities, there was no public discussion in Canada prior to the RCMP's use of this type of technology."

in 2014. Prior to her appointment as Privacy Commissioner, Therrien worked in national security and law enforcement at the Department of Justice and was a key player in the "lawful access" debate in Canada.

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The debate centered on encryption. Millions of Canadians use encrypted communications every day. This is to keep your emails and text messages safe from hackers, keep your online financial transactions safe, and your web traffic more secure.

Police and intelligence agencies have long argued that encryption also allows criminals to hide their plans and activities. This inherently disrupts communications and makes gathering evidence more difficult.

However, Mark Flynn, his RCMP Vice-Chairman in charge of National Security and Protection Police, told the Ethics Committee that the RCMP has been at least since 2002 an Said he had the tools.

Therrien said the "lawful access" issue has been debated for years, but she believes the RCMP has the ability to access the suspect's encrypted communications. She said she was surprised she hadn't noticed.

"Part of my surprise is that there has been an ongoing debate, a public debate, in the context of lawful access regarding this particular issue. And the question is, what tools can the police use," said Therrien. she said.

"And no public argument arose that ODIT was used [to do that]. So I am not saying that the use of ODIT is unacceptable, but With so much public debate about the challenges of encryption, it's amazing how I wasn't informed when I was the Privacy Commissioner.

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