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A month-long News/Radio-Canada poll revealed that someone used a device known as an IMSI catcher to spy on cell phones in the Parliament Hill area.
News/Radio – A Canadian investigation found that someone was using a cell phone tracking device near the heart of democracy in Canada. (Adrian Wilde/Canadian Press)
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A one-month News/Radio-Canada investigation revealed that someone was using a mobile phone tracking and surveillance device in the Parliament Hill area.
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Known as the IMSI catcher, the device has also been used by Canadian police and security authorities, foreign intelligence agencies, and organized crime.
The device, known by the brand name StingRay, mimics a cell phone tower to communicate with a nearby phone and read the International Mobile Subscriber ID (IMSI), a unique identifier associated with the phone.
You can then use that number to track the phone and continue to track the phone’s user. In some cases, you can also use the IMSI catcher to open text messages on your phone and receive calls.
To conduct the investigation, our reporters used an IMSI gunner detection device made by the German company GSMK. It looks like a regular cell phone, but CryptoPhone sends out an alert when a fake cell phone antenna intercepts the signal.
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Similar tests have been conducted in media outlets in the US, Norway and Australia, but this is the first time a Canadian media company has used it.
During tests in December and January, CryptoPhone has generated alerts at locations around Parliament Hill, including the nearby Byward Market, the Rideau Center shopping mall and the offices in downtown Ottawa.
CryptoPhone from ESD America (and purchased by Radio-Canada) can detect when an IMSI catcher tries to intercept it. †
Because IMSI gunmen have a radius of approximately 0.5 km in an urban environment, detected IMSI gunmen can reach areas such as Parliament Hill, the Prime Minister’s office in Langevin Block, the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense and the US and Israeli embassies.
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We then used a much more sophisticated device, the Overwatch sensor, which confirmed the presence of an IMSI gunman near Parliament Hill.
We wanted to know more about everyone using the IMSI catcher we detected, so we asked the US supplier of CryptoPhone to analyze the alerts we were getting.
“You’ve definitely seen the IMSI catcher activity on an ongoing basis,” said CEO and co-founder Les Goldsmith as they brought our results to the company’s Las Vegas office.
We have described the areas of the city that IMSI gunmen have detected full of politicians, political personnel and officials.
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As for who is behind it, Goldsmith says IMSI shooters are used by law enforcement, federal agencies, organized crime and foreign intelligence agencies.
“We’re seeing more IMSI shooters with different configurations and we can put signatures, so we’re looking at IMSI shooters who are probably Chinese, Russians, Israelis, etc,” he said.
He knows a lot about IMSI shooters and is from a Canadian security service. We have agreed to hide his identity so as not to jeopardize our security operations.
“It undermines our sovereignty that lawmakers or people working on Parliament Hill could be exposed and the victims of this type of attack,” he said.
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Black marked locations are where /Radio-Canada detected IMSI gunmen in Ottawa. The circles indicate the range that the IMSI trap can cover. †
“We found out that Russian intelligence had parked near a CSIS loaded with equipment to catch IMSIs. After X days or weeks, the phone was taking eight hours a day, so it wouldn’t be possible to get the IMSI “Identify an agent’s number. I could. In the same place.”
He said that when Russia conducts its next covert operation, it will use IMSI gunners to check for numbers associated with Canadian intelligence services. If so, the operation will be stopped.
A Chinese embassy official said it would be “irrational and irresponsible” to suggest that China participate in the activity.
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Our security experts have suggested that the IMSI traps we saw could be the work of a domestic agency, such as a telecommunications security facility, Canada’s electronic espionage service.
“One possibility is that the telecommunications security facility has been instructed to guard the network in a defensive manner,” he said.
“By law, the CSE is not allowed to target activities at Canadians anywhere in Canada,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
IMSI gunmen disguise themselves as cell phone towers, pick up nearby cell signals and intercept unique ID numbers, international cell phone subscriber IDs, or IMSIs associated with cell phones. †
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Last June, the RCMP showed that it uses the IMSI catcher for its operation. Quebec’s Supreme Court lifted its publishing ban to reveal the technology was being used by police as part of an investigation into the 2011 death of Salvatore (Sal Ironworker) Montagna, a senior member of a New York crime family murdered outside Montreal. .
The document also shows that the RCMP has received court approval to use the IMSI shooter. RCMP refers to this as a mobile device interceptor or MDI.
Recent court proceedings may also reveal the extent to which police are reluctant to discuss the use of the device. Last month, federal lawyers suspended proceedings against 30 of the nearly 50 suspects caught in an operation targeting the Montreal mafia.
A prosecutor told reporters that the evidence collected by the RCMP raised “unprecedented legal problems”, but declined to comment.
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Some privacy experts believe Crown is concerned about whether the use of IMSI shooters will continue in court, including debates over how the data will be collected.
The city police also use this technology. The Vancouver Police Department admitted to borrowing an RCMP IMSI gunman in 2007 and said they would use the technology again.
The news obtained documents in 2016 showing that the Winnipeg Police Department, the Durham District Police Department, the Ontario Police Department and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service have been granted permission to purchase IMSI shooters from federal public security officials.
We contacted the police, security forces, embassies and the federal government to find out if they were involved with the IMSI gunmen we discovered.
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The Department of Public Security, the Ottawa Police Department, the RCMP and CSIS all gave similar responses. While we have not discussed specific investigative techniques, we follow the law, respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and follow appropriate legal procedures.
She points to a lack of transparency as Canadians only learn in 2017 that the RCMP has had IMSI gunmen since 2005.
Teresa Scassa, chair of the University of Ottawa’s Information Law Canada Study, said the use of IMSI shooters in Ottawa is “very concerned.” †
She also said it is not clear whether authorities always get warrants. Even then, there are still questions about what happens to the information from others involved in the study, Scassa said.
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“Will it be destroyed? Will it be kept? Will it be used for another purpose? It’s not always clear whether the warrant contains terms that require specific actions to be taken on that information later.”
Since many groups have access to IMSI shooters, Scassa argues that the government can do much more to protect the privacy of Canadians.
She reports to the Privacy Commissioner on several key pieces of information, such as how often an agency using an IMSI shooter is warranted when the device is used, intercepts but destroys information irrelevant to the investigation, and how often it is used. should. Since May, activists have witnessed repeated aerial presences as protesters across the country marched against police brutality and supported the Black Lives Matter movement. Mysterious planes and helicopters hover overhead, appearing to be overseeing. protesters. According to a Justice Department press release in late May, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the US National Police Agency had received requests from the Department of Justice to provide unspecified assistance to law enforcement agencies during protests. A report from BuzzFeed News a few days later gave us more insight into the matter. Shortly after protests began in several cities, the DEA said it had requested special powers from the Justice Department to covertly monitor Black Lives Matter protesters on behalf of law enforcement officers.
The press release and memo did not specify what form of support and oversight there would be, but it is likely that the two agencies were asked to assist the police for specific reasons. Both the DEA and the Sheriff have planes equipped with so-called stingrays or dirt boxes. It is a powerful technology that can track your phone or collect data and communications in bulk from your phone, depending on how it is configured.
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Stingrays have been used on the ground and in the air by law enforcement agencies for many years, but because they are not collected, it is highly controversial.
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