Gone Opaque? An Analysis of Hypothetical IMSI Catcher Overuse in Canada
141 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2017
Date Written: August 2016
This analytical report, Gone Opaque? An Analysis of Hypothetical IMSI Catcher Overuse in Canada, examines a class of surveillance devices called ‘cell site simulators’, and which are commonly referred to as ‘IMSI Catchers’, ‘Digital Analyzers’, ‘cell grabbers’, and ‘mobile device identifiers’ or by brand names such as ‘Stingray’, DRTBOX and ‘Hailstorm’.
IMSI Catchers allow state agencies to intercept communications from mobile devices and are used primarily to identify otherwise anonymous individuals associated with a mobile device or to track them. These surveillance devices are not new – their use by state agencies spans decades. However, the ubiquity of the mobile communications devices in modern day life, coupled with the plummeting cost of IMSI Catchers, has led to a substantial increase in the frequency and scope of IMSI Catcher use. As the devices are highly intrusive in nature, their surreptitious and uncontrolled use poses an insidious threat to privacy.
Broadly, the report investigates the surveillance capabilities of IMSI Catchers, state efforts (and civil society counter-efforts) to prevent any information relating to IMSI Catchers from becoming public, and the legal and policy framework that governs the use of these devices in state surveillance contexts. While this report principally focuses on Canadian state agencies, it draws on comparative examples from other jurisdictions, notably the United States and to some degree Germany. The report concludes with a series of recommended transparency and control mechanisms (primarily legal) designed to properly constrain the use of these devices and to temper their more intrusive features. Structurally, the report is divided into four sections relating to technical capacities, transparency, policy controls and best practices.
Keywords: canada, germany, united states, interception, surveillance, privacy, IMSI Catcher, law, transparency, accountability, police
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