Canadian cop claims he didn't know cyber-stalking was illegal

Filed Under: BlackBerry, Featured, Law & order, Mobile, Privacy

Man spying. Image courtesy of ShutterstockA Canadian police officer who pleaded guilty to planting spyware on his wife's BlackBerry has been sentenced to demotion, after two years' paid suspension.

According to local news sources, a mitigating factor in his sentencing was that he didn't know that planting the cyber bug was a crime.

The unnamed (for legal reasons) officer, from the police force of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was apparently drinking heavily at the time, and suspected his wife of cheating on him with a close friend.

His defense counsel argued that both the jealousy angle and the lack of clarity around such spyware should weigh in the officer's favour, an opinion supported by the eventual decision to grant a conditional discharge and place him on probation for twelve months last year, and now to sentence him to demotion to second class constable for at least two years.

The spyware he planted could apparently harvest chat and SMS data as well as monitor GPS location information, with the information gathered posted to a remote site and accessible from anywhere in the world.

The officer admitted to buying the spyware online, under his own name and with a credit card, from a US website advertising the tool as suitable for snooping on spouses suspected of infidelity.

The case was one of the first brought under new laws covering digital surveillance, as the judge at his original hearing last year pointed out. The case was treated as a gentle introduction to the new laws, with future offenders warned that they would not be treated so lightly.

It does seem a rather delicate slap on the wrist, especially for a police officer, who should be expected to be more up to speed than most people on what is permissible behaviour and what is, in fact, a crime.

The case highlights the difficulties surrounding "greyware", the "potentially unwanted applications' (aka PUA), which most quality security products will alert on if asked to, but whose developers claim they are servicing a legitimate need.

GPS map. Image courtesy of ShutterstockThe PUA issue has been around for quite a few years in the PC world, but is now becoming a particular problem in the mobile space, where this kind of snoopware is especially effective thanks to GPS location data and the intimate info many mobile users share by SMS, instant messaging and social networking apps.

With people only just starting to realise the need for security software on their mobiles to help spot stuff like this, as well as simpler security practices such as screen locks and not letting strangers fiddle with your phone, this sort of story should help hit the point home.

And from the other side, it should make it clear to people thinking about using this kind of tool to snoop on their friends and neighbours: it's not just not cool, in many jurisdictions it's a crime.

Images of man spying and GPS map courtesy of Shutterstock.

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7 Responses to Canadian cop claims he didn't know cyber-stalking was illegal

  1. Guest · 789 days ago

    He gets drunk, spies on his wife and then gets two years' paid suspension. Sign me up!

  2. sasguy · 788 days ago

    What happened to the principle that "ignorance of the law is no excuse?" (Criminal Code (RSC 1985, c. C-46), section 19)

  3. DUHinvestigator? · 787 days ago

    Since he's a cop.....and knows many detectives & PIs....he could have gotten the same results with a PI........Spying in person is OK, but cyber-spying is not......something's just not right.

  4. wants2know · 787 days ago

    What happens when parents use this to monitor their kids. Same thing isn't it? Are kids less of a legal entity when it comes to cyber spying?

  5. karen dunkley · 786 days ago

    hes a cop, drunk or sober, he knows the law, he should have been made an example of, the law these days are a joke, they are there to protect the crims

  6. David · 786 days ago

    I guess where kids are concerned, the parents generally own the device, presumably in Canada it's not illegal to install this software on a device you own. I'd be interested to know what Canadian law would have done if the phone and the contract had been owned by the officer in question.

  7. Randy · 786 days ago

    He shouldn't be spying on his wife. Who does he think he is, the government?

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About the author

John Hawes is Chief of Operations at Virus Bulletin, running independent anti-malware testing there since 2006. With over a decade of experience testing security products, John was elected to the board of directors of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO) in 2011.