Canada’s privacy commissioner says his office learned about the RCMP’s use of spyware through the media, and he wants Parliament to strengthen and modernize privacy laws.

Philippe Dufresne is appearing before a House of Commons committee that is investigating the use of technology that can be covertly and remotely installed on devices like computers and cellphones to monitor messages and even turn on cameras and microphones.

He says the country’s laws should be changed to include “privacy by design” and create a section in the Privacy Act that requires organizations and departments to do a privacy impact assessment when new technology is introduced that could affect the public’s right to privacy.

Dufresne says his office has asked the RCMP for more details, which are expected later this month, and that the force says it did a privacy assessment in 2021 but did not notify his office.

The commissioner says it raises issues of trust when questions are asked publicly about spyware technology after it’s already been in use.

Spyware used by RCMP in 32 investigations

During Monday’s meeting, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner made reference to documents provided to the committee by the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

WATCH | Canada’s Privacy Commissioner answers questions during standing committee on Access to Information

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner answers questions during standing committee on Access to Information

Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne discusses how the RCMP uses a controversial type of digital surveillance technology during investigations.

The documents, according to Hepfner, state that On Device Investigative Tools (ODIT) spyware — which can obtain data covertly and remotely from targeted devices — was used to support 32 investigations since 2017, in which a combined total of 49 devices were targeted.

Hepfner said the RCMP have used this technology for investigations involving terrorism, kidnapping, murder and trafficking.

“I think this is this is exactly the type of information that needs to be looked at, in a [privacy impact assessment] and by my office being consulted on this,” Dufresne said. 

Members of the RCMP who have overseen the use of spyware technology in a limited number of investigations will appear before the committee later today

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