When Stories Cross Borders

Sunday, 13 January 2013

One of the many cool things about the Internet, from the perspective of a journalist, is the way it can massively enhance the reach of a story and evolve it from something that is national to something that is truly international.

Case in point: this evening I stumbled across this Canadian news report from late last year: Police Departments Won't Say if They Use Cellphone ID Tech. It is about how a Canadian civil liberties group, prompted by an investigation I produced for the Guardian in late 2011, tried to uncover whether police in the country are using a sophisticated mobile phone spy technology made by a UK company called Datong.

Here's a snippet:

Police in three major Canadian departments have declined to confirm whether they have the technology to identify people in a crowd based on the unique identifiers on their cellphones.

"It reflects a massive invasion of privacy," said David Eby, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, speaking about the technology which can be used to capture the International Mobile Subscriber Identity or International Mobile Equipment Identity on cellphones and other devices.

Eby said the BCCLA became interested in whether the technology was being used here after reading about it in a British newspaper article.

The organisation tried to contact Vancouver Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Ontario Provincial Police because it discovered that a Canadian company called Dyplex Communications was a distributor of the the secretive UK-made technology in question.

Unsurprisingly, and in keeping with the position taken by most police forces across the world, the Canadian cops declined to confirm or deny whether they used the snooping gear on the grounds that they "do not disclose electronic surveillance techniques or equipment on the primary grounds of concern for officer safety and the integrity of current or future investigations."

You can read the full correspondence between the police forces and the civil liberties group here [pdf], courtesy of news site The Tyee.

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