House Ethics Committee begins second day of hearings into RCMP spyware use

OTTAWA – The director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab says spyware is “like wiretapping on steroids,” requiring more monitoring and a much higher threshold of use than traditional wiretapping .

Ron Diebert will address the House of Commons Ethics Committee as part of its investigation into the use of spyware by the RCMP in 32 investigations over the past five years.

In prepared remarks provided to The Canadian Press, Diebert says what he calls “the mercenary spyware industry” is poorly regulated and associated with widespread abuse.

He says the industry is a threat to civil society, human rights and democracy and that governments should be transparent about buying this technology.

Yesterday, senior officers told the committee that the RCMP does not use the controversial Pegasus spyware, but declined to release details of the technology it uses, citing national security concerns.

The RCMP also say that although the technology is new, invading privacy on a digital device is similar to what police have done for years by wiretapping and installing surveillance cameras.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne told the committee that the RCMP did not notify his office before they began using the technology, and that he learned about it from the media.

He called on MPs to make changes to privacy legislation that would require government departments and organizations to launch privacy impact assessments whenever new technology is introduced that could have an impact on the “fundamental right to privacy”.

Dufresne’s predecessor, Daniel Therrien, will also appear before the committee today, along with the president of the Canadian Privacy and Access Council.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 9, 2022.

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