Government agencies play iSpy

Not to alarm you, but for some reason, the federal agency managing our seafood has the power to snoop at your phone. Allow us to explain. 

What happened: The Parliamentary Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is launching an investigation into the government’s use of spyware technology that can extract sensitive personal data from smartphones, computers, and tablets. 

  • The technology these agencies use can unlock encrypted, password-protected, and even deleted data, further normalizing powerful surveillance capabilities.

  • The agencies using the tools include expected names like the RCMP and Border Services, but also plenty of unusual ones, like the CRTC and Fisheries Canada.  

Catch-up: The probe was spurred by a Radio-Canada report, which found that 13 federal agencies used these tools—none of whom completed a required privacy impact assessment (PIA) meant to ensure that the tools are absolutely necessary for achieving a stated goal.

Why it matters: Despite being federally mandated, there’s no binding law forcing agencies to follow the PIA requirement—which begs the question, why have it at all? This is just one example of how Canada’s privacy laws lack teeth and put citizen’s privacy at risk.  

Big picture: Canada’s privacy laws have faltered both in the public and private sectors. Be it Tim Hortons tracking users and reimbursing them with donuts, Canada Post getting a slap on the wrist for illegally collecting data, or plain ol’ fashioned government overreach.—QH