Sorry eh? Canadian mounties own up: Yes, we own 10 IMSI-catchers

Denies deploying 'Stingrays' near government buildings in Ottawa, so who are the spys?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has ‘fessed up to a long-held suspicion that it uses Stingray-style equipment to track mobile phones.

At the same time, in an interview with public broadcaster CBC, Chief Superintendent Jeff Adam says IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity)-catchers that CBC News believes it spotted in Ottawa didn’t belong to any government agency – sparking concerns about who might have been snooping on government or commercial communications in the capital.

The RCMP says its use of IMSI-catchers is limited: it deployed the fake base stations 24 times in 2015 and 19 times in 2016, said Adam – whose remit includes technical investigation services – in the hour-long interview.

CBC News kicked off a furore when it reported evidence of IMSI-catchers in the vicinity of government buildings in Ottawa. Security minister Ralph Goodall has referred the matter to the Mounties and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service for investigation.

Adam told CBC that “It’s a security risk when it is used in proximity to government and/or any other commercial enterprises.”

Without specifying his concerns in detail, Adam warned that those deploying IMSI-catchers could be attempting more than surveillance: “There is equipment out there that is not limited in its capturing of communications between devices.”

That’s bound to get people wondering whether someone’s trying to push malware into government or commercial targets.

The RCMP has ten IMSI-catchers, operated by 24 technicians, and in his interview with CBC, Adam said the units were used only to identify devices. They can be used only if a judge is prepared to issue a warrant, after the Canadian parliament refined the laws surrounding their use.

The Globe and Mail explains that using IMSI-catchers requires either a “transmission-data recorder” warrant, which identifies all phones in a location which police filter for their target; or a “tracking-power” warrant, which limits the device use to notifying police if a target phone logs in.

The only warrantless use of the device is in emergency circumstances, such as watching for a phone belonging to a kidnap victim. The police still need to apply for a retroactive warrant. ®

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