The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is formally launching an investigation into the alleged use of Stingray surveillance devices by the RCMP, according to reports by Vancouver-based advocacy organization OpenMedia and the Toronto Star.

The announcement comes six weeks after Laura Tribe, OpenMedia’s digital rights specialist, filed a complaint with the commissioner’s office in response to an article by the Star in which RCMP representatives refused to say whether they used the devices, which collect cellphone data including text messages and private conversations by electronically mimicking cellphone towers.

In a statement, Tribe said that Canadians had been calling for the RCMP and other police forces across Canada to answers questions about their alleged use of Stingrays, and that she hoped the investigation would lead to an “open and transparent” debate about the issue.

“After all, you wouldn’t let police into your home without a warrant,” she said. “Why would you let them into your phone?”

Stingray II
The Stingray II

Commissioner spokesperson Valerie Lawton confirmed the investigation was taking place for the Star, noting that a January meeting with the RCMP intended to discuss its alleged use of Stingrays had been cancelled once the commissioner’s office launched the investigation. However, she said the organization could not offer further information at present.

The RCMP did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

Several U.S. police forces, including the FBI and NYPD, have admitted to using Stingrays, but thus far no Canadian police force has acknowledged doing so.

Back in December, the Star used the Access to Information Act to ask the RCMP for its policies related to Stingray use, but was told the records were exempt from disclosure. The OPP also wouldn’t comment on whether they used the devices, though a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service said the force did not possess a Stingray.

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