RCMP able to hack into phones using Stingray device

Blackberry Phone

Ever since Edward Snowden famously revealed what the NSA has been up to behind closed doors, privacy advocates have been raising concerns about the government’s ability to access our personal information.  Now, new revelations add fuel to the fire: court documents state that the RCMP has secretly hacked into Canadians’ cell phones in a number of crime cases.

This information was revealed last week, after a judge removed a publication ban that was placed on the case of Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna. Sal, who was fatally shot outside of Montreal in 2011, had been part of a notorious crime family.

In this particular case, the RCMP was able to successfully intercept different suspects’ BlackBerry devices and read their PIN messages, which they found using wireless signals. This information allowed them to eventually convict a number of alleged mobsters, and uncover a larger murder conspiracy.

While this sounds like a relatively happy ending, court documents also confirm that the RCMP uses “mobile device interceptors” to find people’s smartphones — which can pose a slippery slope and problematic ethical implications for many privacy advocates.

Mobile device interceptors are known as Stingrays or IMSI catchers, and are frequently employed in the U.S. The devices share a similar appearance to cellphone towers, and can prompt phones that are in the nearby vicinity to connect. This allows the Stingway operator to gain access to various types of information on the phone in question, ranging from its texts, data, emails, and even voice conversations. In this specific case involving Sal, Canadian police have said that these devices were used for the sole purpose of identifying their suspects’ smartphones — yet privacy advocates remain concerned about the extent of Stingray use throughout the country.

Many consider government hacking to be a viable means to an end to catch and convict criminals, but are adamant that this information be made public — and that these methods are used only in a case by case basis. Others, however, think that government hacking can never realistically be confined to a specific case — once authorities possess the power to access our personal information, the implications could be broader and more far-reaching than we realize.

What are your thoughts on the RCMP using surveillance techniques in crime cases? Sound off in the comments below.

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