RCMP admits to remotely turning on phone cameras, mics of criminal suspects

This is the first time RCMP has even acknowledged that it has this ability, which uses malware to intrude on phones and devices, despite having had the technology for years.

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal QC

The RCMP has admitted for the first time that it has been using spyware to infiltrate the cell phones of Canadians, including by remotely turning on the camera and microphone of suspect's phones and laptops.

The RCMP says those tools were only used in serious cases when other, unintrusive measures were not successful.

This is the first time RCMP has even acknowledged that it has this ability, which uses malware to intrude on phones and devices, despite having had the technology for years, and using it in 10 investigations between 2018 and 2020, reports Politico.

A senior research associate at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab said that "this is a kind of capability that they have done everything possible to keep incredibly quiet."

“This is a remarkable finding and, for the first time, publicly reveals that the RCMP is using spyware to infiltrate mobile devices, as well as the broad capabilities of their spyware,” he continued.

The RCMP said that the increasing popularity of end-to-end encrypted apps means that police need new techniques to catch criminals.

Critics, however, say the RCMP is crossing a line, and that there needs to be rules in place on what limits the RCMP's tools, including malware and spyware.

The RCMP admitted to their spying on Canadians in a document in the House of Commons after a question from a Conservative MP on what government programs gather data from Canadians.

The spyware techniques were used by the RCMP's Covert Access and Intercept Team. The team says it gathers data that can't be obtained using traditional means and instead opt for the use of spyware, or as they call it, "on-device investigative tools."

Those tools can gather pictures, videos, calendar entries, financial records, "audio recordings of private communications and other sounds within the range of the targeted device" and "photographic images of persons, places, and activities viewable by the camera(s) built into the targeted device," the document says.

The RCMP says that those tools are used only during serious criminal investigations that involve national security.

The document says that it needs spyware because traditional methods of wiretapping are less effective than they were before.

"In less than a generation, a high number of Canadians migrated their daily communications from a small number of large telecommunication service providers, all of which provided limited and centrally controlled services to customers, to countless organizations in Canada and elsewhere that provide a myriad of digital services to customers," the document reads.

"That 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."


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