A CBC/Radio-Canada investigation is looking into who is using IMSI catchers to potentially track cellphone users’ voice and text communications as well as location around the nation’s capital.
The public broadcasters found the presence of such devices by using a CryptoPhone from German company GSMK, which pings when it receives a cellular signal being emitted an IMSI catcher, which emulates the functions of a regular network tower.
Testing done in December and January found tracking going on in the downtown and multiple commercial and governing districts of Ottawa, including Parliament Hill, the US and Israeli embassies as well as CBC and National Defence headquarters. IMSI catchers have a typical effective range of 500 meters in urban environments.
Testing with an Overwatch Sensor confirmed that an IMSI catcher was operating in the Parliament Hill area.
Based on signatures put out by the readings, there are two suspects: the Russian government, which has done such surveillance work before in Canada, and, perhaps, a domestic agency like the Communication Security Establishment.
The CSE stated that it’s barred by law from doing such surveillance work. The Russian Embassy rejects allegations of IMSI catcher use in the capital as has the Chinese Embassy. The Israeli Embassy claims no knowledge of the issue while the US Embassy declined comment.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have used StingRays in the country before, with a recent case centering around a BlackBerry device owned by a suspected New York mobster, murdered outside of Montreal.