Report Calls for Greater Transparency, Proactive Control of IMSI Catchers
CIPPIC and the Citizen Lab, released a report today that describes and analyzes a class of covert electronic surveillance devices called cell site simulators (typically referred to as IMSI Catchers or by brand names such as 'Stingray'). IMSI Catchers operate by impersonating cell phone towers in order to trick mobile devices within range into transmitting digital identifiers, which are then used to track mobile devices or identify the otherwise anonymous individuals associated with them. The report (Executive Summary, FR) argues that the devices are inherently invasive. The geo-location and identification they facilitate engages sensitive privacy interests and, moreover, they are inherently coarse - for each target they are deployed against, the privacy of thousands of non-targeted mobile devices within range is collaterally affected. IMSI Catchers are also intrusive for their interference with the operation of mobile devices, which cannot receive or transmit any phone, text or data communications while engaged with an IMSI Catcher. This can include interference with critical communications such as emergency 911 calls.
Exacerbating the intrusive features of this electronic surveillance tool has been the cloud of secrecy that pervades its use. The report describes significant efforts by journalists and civil society, in Canada and abroad, which sought to uncover use of this device in Canada and the heavy and unnecessary yet persistent resistance these efforts have experienced. The resulting secrecy, which appears to be encouraged by non-disclosure agreements imposed on Canadian agencies by IMSI Catcher vendors, has delayed important public policy debates regarding the appropriate use of these devices, while eroding public confidence. The report calls for the imposition of a range of transparency, proportionality and mitigation measures, modeled on regulatory frameworks adopted by other jurisdictions for IMSI Catchers, by Canadian courts and legislatures for comparably intrusive electronic surveillance tools and by international normative frameworks for digital privacy protection.
- Colin Freeze, "Government Use of Surveillance Devices Must be Restricted: Privacy Experts", September 13, 2016, The Globe and Mail
- Read the Report: Tamir Israel & Christopher Parsons, "Gone Opaque? An Analysis of Hypothetical IMSI Catcher Overuse in Canada", ver 2, (FR | Executive Summary), August 2016
- Citizen Lab, "IMSI Catcher Report Calls for Transparency, Proportionality and Minimization Policies", September 13, 2016, citizenlab.org
- CIPPIC and Citizen Lab's intervention, on behalf of OpenMedia in an appeal of the Vancouver Police Department's refusal to confirm or deny their use of IMSI Catchers
- Toronto Star, Editorial, "Ottawa Should Tell the Truth About 'Stingrays'", Monday, September 19, 2016
- Laura Wright, "Cellphone Monitoring Device Use Should Be Limited, Researchers Say", September 14, 2016, CBC News
- Laura Tribe, "New Report Reveals Potential Extent of Invasive Stingray Phone Surveillance in Canada", September 14, 2016, Rabble.ca
Tamir Israel & Christopher Parsons, "Gone Opaque? An Analysis of Hypothetical IMSI Catcher Overuse in Canada", August 2016: