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RCMP Deploys Spyware That Enables Mics, Cameras to Eavesdrop on Targets, Agency Admits

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: June 29, 2022
The RCMP has admitted it deploys spyware that turns on and logs the camera and microphone of surveillance targets.
An RCMP officer outside the Senate of Canada on Sept. 23, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. New documents released by the RCMP to the House of Commons admit the agency deploys spyware to access the microphones and cameras of surveillance targets. The RCMP says the power is only used in serious criminal investigations and always under the order of a judge. (Image: DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada’s federal police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), has admitted it utilizes spyware that enables the microphones and cameras on devices to spy on targets it wishes to investigate. 

The information became public, not through Canadian media, but instead through a June 29 article by U.S.-based Politico.

The outlet states that the RCMP “outlined the techniques” its Covert Access and Intercept Team (CAIT) employs in a document provided to the House of Commons during the week of June 27 in response to a question from an unnamed Conservative Party MP on how the agency gathers data from Canadians.

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Politico described the CAIT as a unit that exists “to intercept communication that can’t be obtained using traditional wiretaps” by using what was defined in the documents as “on-device investigative tools.”

The documents further defined the tools as spyware “installed on a targeted computing device that enables the collection of electronic evidence.”

And further elaborated that the spyware collectes “audio recordings of private communications and other sounds within range” and “photographic images of persons, places and activities viewable by the camera(s) built into” the “targeted device,” Politico stated

The outlet also paraphrased the documents as representing that the tools are only used during “serious criminal and national security investigations” and always under the auspices of a judge.

University of Toronto Citizen Lab research associate Christopher Parsons told Politico that the revelations are, “The cleanest, most straightforward explanation of what they’re capable of doing that I’m aware of.”

“This is a kind of capability that they have done everything possible to keep incredibly quiet,” he also stated.

Politico stated that the RCMP justified the necessity of the tools in the documents because, “Decentralization, combined with the widespread use of end-to-end encrypted voice and text-based messaging services, make it exponentially more difficult for the RCMP to conduct court-authorized electronic surveillance.”

The documents further represented that, “RCMP’s CAIT tools and techniques are not used to conduct mass surveillance…The use of ODITs [spyware] is always targeted and time-limited.”

The use of data intercepts may not be as localized as the RCMP’s statements would have the public believe, however. 

Dennis Young, an ex-RCMP officer and independent investigator, published in 2019, based a 2017 disclosure from former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson to former Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, a set of statistics that showed between 2012 and 2016 alone that there had been more than 28,000 days worth of audio and visual intercept authorizations given and renewed.

The 28,001 days of surveillance were generated from 356 applications, of which 353 were approved. 

The most common types of offenses in relation to surveillance listed in the document were mixed between narcotics, possession of stolen property, money laundering, terrorism, and conspiracy.