The veil of secrecy concerning the use of Stingray devices, and other novel electronic surveillance technologies in Canada is slowly being pulled back.
Project Clemenza was a Montréal RCMP investigation, which targeted suspected members of the mafia in that city. The investigation probably utilized both Stingray devices, which indiscriminately collect cellphone data in their vicinity, to identify suspect cellphones and other electronic surveillance techniques to crack the messages on those phones.
It was only through the work of lawyers in the case that we discovered this information and found out about the likely complicity by Blackberry/RIM with the RCMP investigation. While we still don’t have the full details, including whether a judge ever signed off on this approach, we have learned that Blackberry likely gave over their global encryption key for all users to the RCMP in order to crack the suspects cellphone messages. This represents a stunning betrayal of their customers who rely on their technology to protect their legitimate private information, all for the sake of cooperation with law enforcement officials in Canada.
The Crown does have to disclose the reason they stay charges, but in a high-profile case like this, it is perhaps not surprising that they felt compelled to say something. It is telling however, how little they actually explained. It is likely that similar to the situation in the US, they were compelled to abandon these prosecutions by non-disclosure agreements that the manufacturers of the Stingray device have asked purchasers to sign. Stuck between honouring their contracts, and proceeding with the prosecution of these individuals, the Crown may have chosen to honour the NDA’s.
A device that can only be used in an investigation if its use is kept secret is not a device that should be used at all. The RCMP, municipal police forces, and the Crown Prosecutor’s offices across the country should seriously consider whether the problems inherent to the Stingray device and other overbroad electronic surveillance methods are worth the cost.
There really is so much to talk about in this case, we will try to revisit the subject at greater length in the future.
“[P]rosecutors are vague about the reasons for the decision, raising speculation they are uneasy about evidence gathered using a secretive and controversial surveillance technique.”