Taming the Pocket Spy | The press

It took a question from the Conservative Party in the House of Commons to bring to light a controversial practice that many suspected: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are indeed using spyware in connection with certain investigations.

Posted yesterday at 5:00am

And not since yesterday. Since five years. In the utmost secrecy.

This revelation, shared by Politico and my colleague Mélanie Marquis in our Wednesday edition at the end of June, should keep us all awake. Two nights instead of one.

Do you think I’m exaggerating?

This software, which allows to spy on everything that happens on a victim’s phone or computer, spy on conversations, read emails, remotely activate the camera and recorder, is wreaking havoc on the entire planet.

In July 2021, a comprehensive investigation conducted by 17 media outlets in 10 countries revealed that politicians, including French President Emmanuel Macron, journalists and human rights defenders were on the lists of potential targets for the best-known spyware, Pegasus, by the Israeli company NSO. The survey pointed to countries with less than stellar human rights records: Saudi Arabia, Morocco, India, Hungary, to name a few.

All winter long, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal presented a more than disturbing exhibition entitled contagion of terror, which mapped the use of Pegasus software and gave a voice to its victims – all from civil society – or those who survived them. Because yes, some died under more than suspicious circumstances, we learned in this powerful museum work.

Several organizations, including Amnesty International, have launched campaigns to call for a moratorium on these poorly regulated technologies.

It is now clear that not only authoritarian states use this technology thoughtlessly, which can turn your mobile phone into a super pocket spy anywhere in the world.

Talk to Pere Aragonès, President of Catalonia. On Wednesday, the sovereignist politician filed a complaint against the former director of Spain’s intelligence services and NSO group after he was spied on with Pegasus in 2020. At the time, he was vice president-elect of the same region.

An investigation by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab – known worldwide for its expertise in malware detection – found in April that the smartphones of 67 politicians – most of them Catalan separatists – had been attacked or infected with the Pegasus or Candiru software .

Since then, the Spanish government has acknowledged that at least 18 politicians have been the subject of this type of surveillance, with the approval of the judiciary.

A real attack on democracy. With the approval of the judiciary. Not less.

And in this disturbing context, we learn that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) also uses this type of software.

The ? Riddles and gummy bears. In her reply to journalists who have looked into the matter, she does not reveal this information.

The RCMP is content to say it uses this technology sparingly when investigating serious crimes or in connection with national security. And she does it with the approval of a judge.

However, the RCMP did not see fit to inform the Data Protection Commissioner, whose mandate it is to investigate this type of practice. Given the controversy surrounding these new technologies, this is a more than deplorable, even worrying, “oversight”.

And as the Conservative Party pointed out, this oversight also affects Ottawa MPs, who have not been able to debate the use of this software and the policies to be imposed. Both the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

We don’t know if Canadian intelligence uses the same espionage tools. On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office claimed not to have that information.

The least we can say is that there are many gray areas on an issue that directly affects our rights and freedoms. Our right to privacy. And that’s just unacceptable.

It’s time to subject this limitless digital spy to real democratic scrutiny.

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