Spyware Used by RCMP: Ex-Privacy Commissioner 'Surprised'

Spyware used by RCMP: ex-privacy commissioner “surprised”

Daniel Therrien served as Federal Privacy Commissioner from 2014 to 2022.

Former Privacy Commissioner federal privacy Daniel Therrien says he was surprised to learn that such an intrusive tool as spyware had been used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for many years in connection with #x27;surveys.

Part of my surprise comes from the fact that there has been a public debate about […] the extent to which the police can use means to overcome the challenges of [data] encryption and that is not ever come into the public debate that [this type of tool] was used for this purpose, he argued Tuesday while appearing before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Privacy and Ethics of the House of Commons.

Mr. Therrien, who was Privacy Commissioner until recently since 2014, believes that his former office should have been consulted by the RCMP before they used spyware.

It's true that there have always been methods of collection, interception, communications, but really, with this tool, we are in another world in terms of the intrusiveness of the information in question, he told committee members.

“I do not agree that the use of this particular tool, given its extremely intrusive nature, should not have resulted in a Privacy Impact Assessment. »

— Daniel Therrien, former Federal Privacy Commissioner

The day before, an assistant commissioner of the RCMP, Mark Flynn, indicated before the same committee that the appeal to this technology dated back to before 2012.

A response to a Conservative MP's written question, tabled in Parliament in late June, revealed that the police force was using spyware without first consulting the Privacy Commissioner.

The House of Commons committee has since launched an investigation to shed light on the matter and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told lawmakers in writing that the spyware had been used in 32 surveys since 2017 and this has targeted 49 devices.

This technology makes it possible to install spy software on a cell phone without the knowledge of its user, to capture or listen to a communication on the device, to capture or view with the cameras , to consult photos and text messages.

In answering questions from federal elected officials on Tuesday, Mr. Therrien described as a good start the parameters that already exist to regulate the use by the RCMP of spyware.

A warrant must be obtained by a judge to authorize it and this investigative technique can only be used in the case of serious crimes, such as in cases of terrorism or murder.


Mr. Therrien believes, however, that the mechanisms in place can probably be improved. He said he agreed with the request of his successor as commissioner, Philippe Dufresne, that privacy impact assessments be made mandatory under the law.

He urged elected officials to clarify exactly when these assessments should be conducted and what type of information they should contain to be truly useful.

I've seen a lot of cases where reviews are a purely mechanical exercise, a [box-ticking] exercise – and there's no point. The goal is to ensure that programs and activities are designed in a way that respects privacy and, moreover, privacy as a fundamental right, said the former commissioner.


Also appearing before federal elected officials, the President of the Access and Privacy Council of Canada, Sharon Polsky, also argued that organizations required to complete assessments make the x27;unnecessary exercise in how they lend themselves to it.

She argued that Canada could learn from European countries, where assessments of impact focus on the risks to the individual whose information is collected and used. It is not the risk for the organization. And, in my experience, that is too often the way Canadian organizations see things, she said.

The parliamentary committee must hear from other witnesses on Tuesday afternoon, including a representative from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

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