Technology, Thoughts & Trinkets

Touring the digital through type

Tag: media

Curated Canadian IMSI Catcher Resources

‘Untitled’ by Andrew Hilts

IMSI Catchers enable state agencies to intercept communications from mobile devices and are used primarily to identify otherwise anonymous individuals associated with a mobile device or to track them. These devices are also referred to as ‘cell site simulators’, ‘mobile device identifiers’, and ‘digital analyzers’, as well as by the brandnames such as ’Stingray’, DRTBox’, and ‘Hailstorm’. These surveillance devices are not new – their use by state agencies spans decades. However, the ubiquity of the mobile communications devices in modern day life, coupled with the plummeting cost of IMSI Catchers, has led to a substantial increase in the frequency and scope of IMSI Catcher use by government and non-government agents alike. The devices pose a serious threat to privacy given that they are highly intrusive, surreptitious, and subject to limited controls in relation to their licit and illicit sale or operation.

One of the challenges with understanding the current policy landscape around IMSI Catchers in Canada stems from different government agencies’ deliberate efforts to prevent the public from learning about whether agencies use such devices. Journalists and academics have tried to determine whether and how the devices are used over the course of approximately a decade; this means that information concerning their operation has unfolded over a significant length of time. Without a centralized resource to curate the successes and failures of these investigations it is often challenging for non-experts to understand the full context and history of IMSI Catchers’ operation in Canada.

Only recently have journalists, advocacy groups, and academics in North America learned about how their respective governments have historically, and presently, operated IMSI Catchers. Such revelations began around four years ago in the United States and within the past year and a half in Canada. Such revelations are the culmination of extensive preparatory work: though news articles and research reports appear more frequently, now, their existence today is predicated on the hidden labour that took place over the prior years.

For Canadians, the release of select court documents enabled more informed analysis of how these devices were used by federal, provincial, and municipal agencies. Such information was drawn on to prepare a report on IMSI Catchers that I wrote with Tamir Israel last year, in which we canvassed, collated, and analyzed what was technically understood about how IMSI Catchers operate, as well as the challenges Canadians have faced using freedom of information request to learn more about the technology. That report also included legal analyses of different ways of authorizing the devices’ operation and the Charter implications of their operation. Furthermore, in recent weeks the RCMP finally admitted to the public that it has used IMSI Catchers after previously claiming that any revelation of whether and how they used the devices would infringe on national security or ongoing investigations. Many other agencies have since followed suit, also informing the public whether they possess and operate IMSI Catchers in the course of their investigations.

To help interested members of the public, journalists, advocacy and activist groups, and fellow academics, I have collated a list of IMSI Catcher-related resources that pertain to the Canadian situation. This listing includes the most important primary and secondary documents to read to understand the state of play in Canada. Some of the resources are produced by academics and technologists, some focus on technology or policy or law, and others encompass the major news stories that have trickled out about IMSI Catchers over the past several years. If you believe that I have missed any major documents feel free to contact me.

Access the IMSI Catcher in Canada Resources

Copyright and the Blank Media Levy

mediaplayer2I’ve been watching with some interest the new Artist 2 Fan 2 Artist project, recently started up by Jon Newton and Billy Bragg. The intent of the site is to bring artists and fans together and encourage these parties to speak directly with one another, without needing to pass through intermediaries such as producers, labels, public relations groups, managers, and so on. It will be interesting to see how the dialogue develops.

One of the key elements of the site that interest me the discussion of paying artists (and other content creators); how can we avoid demonizing P2P users while at the same time allocating funds to artists/copyright owners in a responsible manner. On October 5th, this topic was broached under the posting ‘In Favour of a Music Tax‘, and I wanted to bring some of my own comments surrounding the idea of a music tax to the forefront of my own writing space, and the audience here.

I think that an ISP-focused levy system is inappropriate for several reasons: it puts too much authority and control over content analysis than carriers need, puts carriers at risk when they misidentify content, and would make carriers (for-profit content delivery corporations) in charge of monitoring content without demanding consumers that pay ‘full value’ for content moving through their networks. This last point indicates that an ISP-based levy puts ISPs in a conflict of interest (at least in the case of the dominant ISPs in Canada). Another solution is required.

Continue reading