Submissions to B.C. Information & Privacy Commissioner Inquiry call for Accountability for use of Mass Surveillance Tools
Vancouver, BC (March 24, 2016) – The B.C. Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has begun a much-anticipated Inquiry about the Vancouver Police Department’s refusal to disclose documents requested by the Pivot Legal Society under B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Vancouver Police Department has withheld records relating to the use of surveillance devices generically known as IMSI catchers, popularly known as “Stingrays”, and refused to confirm or deny the existence of such records.
Stingrays mimic cell phone towers and can collect information about cell phones in a given area, including geo-location and content data. Pivot Legal Society, as a party, and the BC Civil Liberties Association, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and OpenMedia, as intervenors, have filed submissions in the Inquiry arguing that records sought must be disclosed under the access to information laws.
Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said: “Law enforcement’s refusal to confirm or deny that they even have information about “Stingrays” is preventing us from having meaningful legal and policy engagement about an issue that involves the constitutional rights of vast numbers of people. Calls for accountability on the use of these devices have met an official response that so far looks an awful lot like sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling “La, la, la we can’t hear you.”
“Warrantless police surveillance undermines the very principles upon which a democratic society is based. British Columbians deserve answers, not police stonewalling,” said Michael Markwick, President of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.
“To date, police stonewalling has made it impossible to hold an informed debate on the use of these powerful surveillance tools,” said Laura Tribe, digital rights specialist for OpenMedia. “We need this critical information to protect our privacy and ensure police are held accountable for their potential use of such invasive devices.”
“The Vancouver Police Department’s refusal to be forthright about the use of a mass surveillance device is deeply troubling, and it speaks to the urgent need for transparency on this issue all across Canada,” says Douglas King, police accountability lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. “Sadly the police have already given us plenty of reason to believe they cannot be trusted to protect our privacy and respect due process when it comes to the use of Stingrays.”
While Canadian police have long sought to keep the subject of Stingrays secret, the media has reported extensively on the subject, including a recent story of about the possible use of IMSI catchers by the RCMP. Additional information about Stingrays can be found here.