The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
News
  |  
Rights + Justice
  |  
Science + Tech

RCMP Has Yet to Complete Privacy Assessment on Social Media Surveillance Tech

Calling ‘Project Wide Awake’ a test lets police dodge assessments, says BCCLA.

By Bryan Carney 29 Mar 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Bryan Carney is director of web production at The Tyee and reports on technology and privacy issues. You can follow his very occasional tweets at @bpcarney.

More than a year after the RCMP started using new technology to monitor Canadians’ social media use — and nearly two years after it purchased the surveillance software — it still hasn’t completed the required privacy impact assessments.

An RCMP spokesperson said the “Project Wide Awake” program is still in the design stage — which is short of “official” implementation that requires a report on effects to personal privacy.

Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association isn’t surprised. She said a claim that a project is in the design stage is typical of the steps that police use to dodge public accountability checks for new technologies.

Project Wide Awake, first reported by The Tyee, is an RCMP initiative to monitor Canadians’ social media use. The initial claimed use was to respond to existing criminal investigations, but the RCMP expanded the program to use monitoring to prevent potential crimes.

The RCMP has been using social media monitoring software since at least February 2018. But the force has classified the project as in a “design phase” while it is taking steps towards officially implementing it, it stated.

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner guidelines state that departments “must submit final PIA [privacy impact assessments] before they implement programs or services.” The measure is a safeguard to ensure privacy impacts are assessed before programs are in place. The institution must also prepare a publicly available summary of its findings on the assessments.

The RCMP told The Tyee this month that Project Wide Awake was in the design stage. But it also confirmed the software had been available to the RCMP for criminal investigative and intelligence purposes for more than a year.

And in July 2017, when the Privacy Commissioner asked the RCMP to list surveillance technologies it used, the force identified the Project Wide Awake monitoring program.

In its 2017 response, the RCMP said it had recently completed the “proof-of-concept” phase of Project Wide Awake and was “in the process” of completing a privacy impact statement before “full implementation.”

Online records show a contract with Carahsoft, the vendor that supplied technology for Project Wide Awake, dating back to June 2017.

The RCMP did not respond when asked how long the program has been in existence.

A spokesperson for Ralph Goodale, the federal minister responsible, sent a statement to The Tyee saying the RCMP is “revising” a privacy impact assessment on the surveillance program.

Vonn said the police often avoid informing the public about the introduction of new surveillance and monitoring technologies by classifying them as pilot projects. They are often only uncovered after a complaint.

“We’ve been watching this go on, this ‘jiggery-pokery’ around when something is actually a program and when it is a pilot, for a very long time,” said Vonn.

“This has been the kind of thing that resulted in the RCMP having a squadron of drones and no policy in relation to them, because they kept saying it’s a pilot program. It was a pilot program for half a decade last time we checked.”

The civil liberties association has long suspected that police are using loopholes to avoid or delay privacy review on new technologies, she said.

“Through how you characterize the nature of your activity, you can evade, at least for a very, very long time, what is a very low threshold of responsibility.”

All the regulations require is that police demonstrate they have turned their minds to privacy, said Vonn. It’s no guarantee privacy will be taken seriously, but it’s a small step that should be taken, she said.

When police are using a new technology, the public should know that they have contemplated what rights are being impacted and the information should be publicly available, she said.

“The fact that we can’t get even that out of them after potentially years of use of a new technology signals that we’ve got a problem.”  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities

Do:

  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Tyee Poll: Are You Preparing for the Next Climate Disaster?

Take this week's poll