Canadian Civil Liberties Association Demands RCMP Halt Spyware Use

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), a human rights organization that aims to protect the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada, has urged the federal government to immediately curb the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)’s spyware use.

In a parliamentary filing earlier this year, the RCMP admitted to using what it calls “on device investigative tools.” The police agency uses these tools when investigating the most serious crimes to gain access to the texts, data, camera, and even microphone on a target device.

“Instead of helping to fix vulnerabilities in software the RCMP has been exploiting them through advanced spyware. This is making us all less safe daily in the name of public safety,” Brenda McPhail, Director of the CCLA’s Privacy Technology and Surveillance Program, said while testifying before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

“Our government agencies are encouraging an industry known for prioritizing profits over human rights and feeding the worst impulses of authoritarian governments.”

The CCLA has demanded an “immediate moratorium” on the RCMP’s use of on device investigative tools until the force’s actions can be publicly investigated.

“Today, the CCLA is calling for an immediate moratorium for on device investigative tools, more colloquially known as spyware, to remotely collect texts, emails, and even turn on microphones or cameras remotely,” McPhail told MPs.

“We need to continue the public conversation to determine whether these tools are necessary and fit for purpose in Canada, and until it is complete these tools should not be used.”

McPhail pointed out that the RCMP didn’t disclose its use of spyware until it was forced to. The CCLA director added that if using these tools is found to be absolutely necessary, a framework for accountability and transparency should be put in place.

According to RCMP officials, spyware has been used to surveil 49 devices across 32 investigations since 2017. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino defended the agency’s use of invasive tools in recent testimony.

Mendicino told MPs that modern-day encryption on devices used by criminals necessitates the use of these tools. He also claimed that the Mounties use spyware rarely, only to investigate major crimes like terrorism and murder, and only when highly specified warrants are issued by judges.

The Privacy Commissioner’s office is now looped in on the matter as well. Commissioner Philippe Dufresne is set to take the issue up with the RCMP at a meeting later this month.