The mountie’s admission to using Mobile Device Identifiers (MDIs), also known as IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity)catchers, was made following a news report from the CBC which warned that an unidentified person or group was using such a device in an area of Ottawa which covered the Parliament building. Prior to that, the RCMP had not made its use of IMSI catchers public.
IMSI catchers mimic the signals that cellphone towers make in order to communicate with nearby mobile devices. The IMSI catcher is able to “read” the International Mobile Subscriber Identity uniquely tied each mobile device. Through this IMSI, investigators are able to track the location of the device when it is being used.
“In the interest of transparency, the RCMP confirms the use of MDI technology to identify and locate a suspect’s mobile device,” the statement from the RCMP said. “This capability can be used to further criminal investigations relating to national security, serious and organized crime, and other serious Criminal Code offences that impact the safety and security of Canadians.”
IMSI catchers help the RCMP identify an unknown cellular device used by a suspect under investigation by collecting “limited signaling information, or for other policing matters, such as identifying the location of a known cellular device linked to a missing person.”
The RCMP’s use of the technology is “in full compliance with Canadian laws, including the Charter of Rights, and proper judicial processes,” the statement said. “Except in extremely urgent cases (i.e., to prevent death or imminent harm), the RCMP must get a judge’s authorization before using the technology.”
On Tuesday, the CBC/Radio-Canada reported that its investigation has uncovered that “someone was using devices that track and spy on cellphones in the area around Parliament Hill.”
There were immediate concerns that Members of Parliament and other people working on Parliament Hill could be exposed to hackers.
There were also concerns around the privacy of ordinary citizens.
There are strict rules around the use and reporting of the use of IMSI catchers, according to the RCMP. In 2016, the RCMP used MDI technology in only 19 investigations.
There are a limited number of authorized and trained RCMP operators who can use IMSI catchers, according to the RCMP. Its use is limited to only the most serious cases, and only when there are grounds to believe that a suspect is using an unknown cellphone to conduct criminal activities.
Its use requires a judge’s authorization, as well as authorization at very senior levels of the RCMP.
The RCMP MDI technology does not collect private communication. In other words, it does not collect:
- voice and audio communications
- email messages
- text messages
- contact lists
- encryption keys
- basic subscriber information
Information that is not relevant to the investigation is immediately destroyed after court proceedings, appeal periods, and any specific orders from a judge.
The data collected is stored in an isolated system that is only accessible by those managing the technology.
“Information that is not relevant to the investigation is immediately sequestered by the operator and not shared with investigators,” the RCMP statement said. “It is destroyed after court proceedings, appeal periods, and any specific orders from a judge.”
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