RCMP Admits To Using Controversial Spy Technology To Track Cellphone Data

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The RCMP has admitted it possesses a controversial high-tech spy device that allowed it to track cellphone data in 19 criminal investigations last year.

RCMP Chief Supt. Jeff Adam tells the CBC, the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail that the force owns 10 of the so-called mobile device identifier tools, which can gather "high-level data" about a phone's location.

It's believed to be the first official public acknowledgment by the RCMP that the force uses surreptitious devices to collect such information, known as metadata.

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The RCMP has admitted it possesses a controversial high-tech spy device that allowed it to track cellphone data in 19 criminal investigations last year. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Adams says the RCMP's devices do not capture private communications, in keeping with department policy. He would not identify the model of the device in question.

He calls the technology a very important investigative tool, one the Mounties use to identify and locate suspects under investigation.

The briefing, a rarity for the RCMP, follows a CBC report that someone in downtown Ottawa has been using a device known as an "IMSI catcher," which can intercept and identify cellphone metadata.

The CBC report found the device being used in recent months in close proximity to Parliament Hill and the U.S. and Israeli embassies, among other locations.

Ottawa device 'does not involve' RCMP or CSIS: director

The devices mimic a cellphone tower to interact with nearby phones and read their unique IDs — the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI — which can then be used to track the phone and identify the owner.

Asked Tuesday about the CBC report, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson and CSIS director Michel Coulombe both confirmed that their agencies were not involved.

"The activity that was reported last evening does not, I repeat, does not involve a Canadian agency like the RCMP or CSIS," Goodale said. "Secondly, those activities are now under active investigation by both the RCMP and CSIS."

Goodale acknowledged the technology is possessed by police and security agencies both in Canada and around the world, but noted that in Canada, its use is governed by law.

"Both CSIS and the RCMP have the legal and privacy issues that are involved here under active ongoing assessment and reassessment, to ensure ... that our Canadian agencies like CSIS and the RCMP are always staying squarely within the four corners of the law."

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