On Thursday, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP) announced it is beginning the probe, with the intent of examining “the legislative, regulatory, policy and financial framework for the lawful interception of communications for security and intelligence activities.”
Deciding to take on this work, the committee—comprised of select MPs and senators from various caucuses—says it also intends to consider the challenges of staying on top of the latest technology such as encryption.
Encryption was one of the reasons cited by the RCMP in their justification for deploying software capable of remotely accessing cell phone and computer microphones, cameras and other data as an investigative tool in dozens of investigations.
“Police sometimes need to use advanced technology-based capabilities to address investigative barriers such as those caused by encryption,” read part of the RCMP documents tabled in the House of Commons in June.
The documents shed new light on the police force’s Covert Access and Intercept Team’s ability to “covertly and remotely” access text messages and other private communications that couldn’t be collected using wiretaps or “other less intrusive investigative techniques.”
The RCMP’s years-long and previously-undisclosed use of software capable of covertly accessing suspects’ electronic devices became the focus of a set of marathon hearings of the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee earlier this month.
During one meeting, senior RCMP officers made a series of notable disclosures about the scope RCMP’s use of “on-device investigation tools” or ODITs.
While Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino defended the use of these tools, saying he’s confident that the “investigative necessity” has been limited by the law to only be permitted in “the most serious offences,” he declined to disclose the name of the software used or whether other federal agencies that fall under his portfolio such as CBSA or CSIS deploy similar tactics.
During the hearings, privacy and civil liberties experts called the tools “extremely intrusive” and said the national police force keeping this information from the public as well as Canada’s privacy watchdog for years is a clear reason to install stronger oversight and regulation.
Now, the NSICOP says it plans to also “examine potential risks to the privacy rights of Canadians,” as it relates to the use of these tools.
“Maintaining the ability of our security, policing and intelligence organizations to lawfully obtain and use communications data while ensuring the protection of privacy and digital security is essential to protecting Canadians against increasingly complex threats,” said NSICOP Chair and Liberal MP David McGuinty in a statement.
He went on to say that having NSICOP—which meets in private and requires all members to have the highest level of security clearance— take on a deeper dive into the issue will allow organizations like the RCMP to “clearly lay out the totality of the problem they face.”
Before the House committee took on its special summer study, Liberal members suggested that given the sensitive nature and classified elements of the subject matter, the work may be better placed with the NSCIOP, while opposition MPs indicated their intent to pursue further in-camera meetings with relevant federal police and investigative officials so that they could gather more information about agencies’ spyware use.
The high-level oversight body was created in 2017, and mirrors similar committees set up in the other “Five Eyes” alliance countries. The NSICOP reports to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and then tables declassified versions of its findings in Parliament.
Source: CTV News