The Vancouver Police Department has issued a testy statement denying it "randomly" intercepts mobile-phone communications.
"The Vancouver Police want to clarify some very misleading news reports suggesting we are randomly listening to private cell phone conversations," reads a November 13 media release. "This is incorrect. The VPD, and most police agencies across the country, do not discuss specific equipment used in covert investigative techniques. Providing such information can be detrimental to police investigations into serious and violent criminal activity."
The statement was issued after a flurry of media reports out yesterday (November 12), which suggested the force may be using a a tool called StingRay that can track people’s locations via their phones, monitor communications, and intercept the contents of voice calls and text messages.
As the Straight reported then, the VPD was not caught using the device. Rather, it refused to say whether or not it possessed the technology, and that prompted civil liberties advocates to raise questions about transparency.
Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, went further and argued the VPD’s silence could be interpreted as proof it has deployed the StingRay device.
“We simply have to assume that refusing to disclose whether these spying devices are being used means ‘Yes they are,’” she said quoted in a media release.
The VPD didn't help calm the uproar that ensued when Const. Brian Montague, a spokesperson from the force, told the Globe and Mail, "It is in the public’s interest, at times, not to disclose certain information."
The VPD statement issued today doesn't offer a lot more than that but does refute assertions that its reluctance to comment is an indication it has the StingRay device.
"Not confirming or denying the possession of a piece of equipment prevents individuals from using a process of elimination to find out what specific tools are used in sensitive covert investigations," it reads. "Speculating the police have a piece of equipment simply because it has been used in other countries or by other police departments would be an inappropriate assumption.
"What is important to know is that the VPD does not randomly listen to the cell phone conversations of citizens. Any covert monitoring of communications is only done during serious criminal investigations pursuant to the Criminal Code, and with prior judicial authorization from the courts."
Questions about the StingRay technology were first raised by Doug King, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society. He raised concerns after the VPD refused to release any documents about the surveillance device—or even confirming or denying if it possesses the technology—in response to a freedom of information request. King and Pivot have since filed an appeal with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner that asks for a review of the VPD’s refusal to hand over any information it might have about StingRay.