How secretive technology could be tracking your phone

The Big Story


You've been lucky enough to find yourself. Wait. I can't tell you where while the police were investigating. I can't tell you that either using a piece of equipment that some forces may or may not possess. And no, they won't tell you that at a certain time. Then congratulations. You may now exist as a random bunch of numbers in a collection of evidence that the police are storing they won't tell you where until they eventually figure out what to do with it. And they might not tell you what they decide to do with it. Either good news, though, it's only a number not a name and some meta data. But there's no way they can identify you based on that. Right. Jordan Heathrow wings. And this is the big story. And are you being paranoid? If they really are watching. Yes. This is one of those episodes. Kate Allen is the Toronto Star science and technology reporter, what's the latest way. Thority if my city are watching. Well, the police service told us a few days ago that they have purchased a Stig Stingray or an emcee catcher, which is a type of cell phone surveillance technology that sweeps up data on also phones within its range. It's usually used on a criminal suspect. But sweeps up everybody within a trench. Oh, good. How does it work? So we don't really know because police have been extremely not forthcoming about how they work. And in fact, have in trials in cases where these things were used. They've applied to. Not disclose any anything about how they work or even the the manufacturer model of these devices. But roughly they sort of force your cell phone all cell phones, within range of the device to identify themselves to device, so they capture a bunch of different types of data. One of the one of the types of data is MC number which is just like a fifteen digit serial code associate with your sim card, and then a couple other types of you know, like a serial number. So she with the actual piece of equipment that you carry and things like that and cops where are using these things. That's a great question. We don't know the answer to that fully either. Why not well the police have been pretty tight lipped about it. I they would say that they're trying to protect investigative techniques. And so I mean, there's nothing compelling them to tell to reports to the public or to journalists they're using them. And so they it hasn't really come to light except for in a few core cases. And when journalists have done some. Digging. So what happens is that a kiss? We'll get into court and the evidence will be presented. And then you find out like, oh, this is how they gathered that vary. Rarely yes. And where have we found that they are being used the first we knew was that the RCMP own some of these devices and so a couple years ago after some court cases were a little bit of info came too late. The empty set down with some journalists and said, yes, we own ten of these devices we've been using them for more than a decade at that point. So we know the CPA uses them other forces have said that the the RCMP has operated those devices on their behalf. So we we actually put in some freedom of information requests with the Toronto police a few years ago, and it came back to us that the Trump service had used the devices on five separate occasions. And in the cases, where they would tell us you tells the AP had always operated it for them. Okay. But we know there. Being used in a few cities. Yes. Yes. So I can give you a couple of other cities so Calgary. Police service says that they own Stingray. Winnipeg please services they own a singer and Vancouver. Police have said that their law enforcement partners have operated it operated on for them. What kinds of data can this capture? The police are pretty clear that the devices that they owned do not capture private communications. So they're not capturing your text messages or phone calls or emails anything like that. It also is not capturing your name or your telephone number. What it is capturing is an identifier associated with their cellphone. So the main one they're looking for is this I m s I number which is just as I said, it's a it's a number associated with your sim card identifies you to the network as you what do they do with that? How does this help? Actually, this a better question. How does this help in an investigation? We don't know all of the uses thing and all of the times they've used it. So as I said only some cases have come to light. And in the one that I know best which was a major drugs and guns case in Toronto in two thousand fourteen the police use because they're trying to do is figure out. So so, you know, drug dealers and gun runners and people like that often change their cell phones. So the police like them and use them because they can operate this thing at a location where suspect is and gather also gather all of the cell phone data in within range of that location. Public him pro everybody everybody within range of the device, including hopefully suspect, and then they followed us to another location. Do it again. And then you know, let's say to another time and other times they're finding the one number that is comment all of those locations, which they will then assume as the suspects empty number and then they get a warrant to connect. That number to that person's name, and the reason that they are doing this is because I mean, at least in the cases, I'm aware of these are usually big cases that involve wiretapping. So they are trying to make sure they know all of the cell phones and land lines that these their targets are using. So that they are wiretapping all of the numbers of their suspects. What happens to the rest of the data that they get? Well, they're using this machine from I'm assuming some of these are used in crowded public places. Yes, that's a really good question. The RCMP has said that when they capture all of us unique identifiers from all of your cell phones in a given location. They only so there's a person who's operating the device and they only pass on the suspects data to investigators. How do they know which one is the suspect by process of elimination their their funding the one number that's comment already the patients that they track the suspect to. And that's the number that they want. So now with the hundreds and sometimes thousands of other numbers that they capture of innocent bystanders who they're not looking for the have said that they keep that information sort of fire walled off from investigators. They securite in a location that you know, it's it's just away from the rest of the. Nothing bad will ever. Yeah. And they have they have said that they will destroy the the this data after any court cases finished after any appeals periods of finished. This is an interim policy developed by the so it's not a finalized policy. It's also not a law. It's a policies rate. It's something they've decided to do what they what they decided. How did you guys find out then that the Toronto police were using these devices so back in I believe it was twenty fifteen I was working on this topic with some of my colleagues, and we asked the Toronto police service do you own and do you use Stingray? And a spokesperson told us we do not own and do not use one of these devices. Then we put in a series of freedom of information requests with the Toronto police asking essentially for you know, anytime they had use it and a full two years later. We got information back that they had actually used. And it on five separate occasions. Okay. To them. They wouldn't tell us about because they were either before the courts are still under investigation. And the other one's range from like, a Bank robbery was missing persons. When was this big, drugs and guns case? But you know, so therefore was not true that the Trump had never used one of these devices. What was true is that they had always used the RCMP's devices in their investigation. Okay. So that was a year ago. So we reported that they said they never used it. They actually had in five separate occasions and just this past week when I was reading about the topic again, I thought okay? Well, we haven't really asked Toronto police in a little while if they if they own a device or asked him again, and they told me actually they had recently acquired one of these devices for

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