Court ruling allows Canadian spies to conduct mass surveillance of cellphones
22 December 2017
Federal court judge Chief Justice Paul S. Crampton has ruled that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada’s premier domestic spy agency, can make use of cellphone surveillance technology to carry out warrantless spying.
Crampton’s decision, released late last month, relates to CSIS’ use of cell-site simulators (CSS) in the course of a recent “Islamist terrorism” investigation. The reactionary ruling argued that “state objectives of public importance [i.e., national security] are predominant, the intrusive nature of the search was minimal, and the method of the search was both highly accurate and narrowly targeted.”
Crampton concluded that the use of CSS by CSIS does not represent an “unreasonable search,” and is thus not in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In other words, the ruling gives a green light to the spy agencies to use tools of mass surveillance.
CSS—also known as IMSI catchers or “Stingrays”—are briefcase-size devices that imitate cellphone towers and trick nearby cellphones into establishing a connection with them. They can record phones’ geolocation, phone numbers, personal information and even the content of texts and phone calls.
While officials claim the devices are only used to track a targeted suspect in the course of a police investigation, the reality is that CSS can cover a half-kilometre radius in urban areas and a two-kilometre radius in open spaces, meaning that intelligence agents can intercept communications of hundreds or thousands of civilians at a time. This kind of technology has been regularly used to conduct mass surveillance during protests in various…