Police Use of Spyware Under Scrutiny of the Canadian Parliament

Photo credit: The Canadian Press

Canadian Parliament plans to establish when and why the Canadian national police force uses spyware as part of its surveillance operations and if the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is using the powerful and controversial Pegasus spyware which is known to be used to hack journalists and human rights activists’ smartphones.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials, Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, and the current and former privacy commissioners will be summoned to testify about the RCMP’s use of the powerful software in front of the House of Commons ethics committee during the hearings that will take place over two days in August.

The committee wants to know the type of spyware RCMP uses and the terms and conditions of its use after the police force refused to confirm or deny for the media whether it uses Pegasus spyware.

Conservative ethics critic James Bezan told the committee they want to ensure that Charter rights have been protected considering the huge, sweeping impacts this spyware could have upon the privacy of Canadians.

Last month, the RCMP described for the first time how it uses spyware to infiltrate mobile devices to collect text messages, emails, photos, videos, and financial records or to remotely turn on a device’s camera and microphone.

Police officials claim that the technology is always used with a warrant and only in the most serious cases, including national security and organized crime investigations, with documents tabled in the House of Commons in June showing spyware use in 10 investigations from 2018 to 2020.

Despite already having used it for several years, the RCMP had not consulted the federal privacy commissioner about the spyware, which NDP ethics critic Matthew Green is considering a really problematic culture that doesn’t respect civilian oversight.

Stressing that police cannot be allowed to operate rogue, critics underscored the need of public discussion about the spyware use by law enforcement, including whether and how it should be limited.

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