RCMP’s Collection of Open-Source Information Under ‘Project Wide Awake’ priv.gc.ca

Bryan Carney, the Tyee, March 2019:

The RCMP has been quietly running an operation monitoring individuals’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media activity for at least two years, The Tyee has learned.


“There is a position taken that this is public information and does not constitute private information, and that is an inaccurate assessment of the way that Canadian law assess public and private in this country as far as I’m concerned,” he [Chris Parsons of Citizen Lab] said.

Carney, of the Tyee, in a November 2020 followup article:

A 3,000-page batch of internal communications from the RCMP obtained by The Tyee provides a window into how the force builds its capabilities to spy on internet users and works to hide its methods from the public.


Back on Dec. 28, 2016, the RCMP ordered “optional goods” — extra software and features — in a Babel X contract found in the documents, but the list was blanked out. No contract or procurement documents naming Babel X appeared on Public Services and Procurement Canada websites until 2020.

Last year, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a report acknowledging it collects vastly more information than it needs for immediate investigative purposes.

Philippe Dufrense, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, in the introduction to a similarly scathing report about the RCMP’s Project Wide Awake program, published Thursday:

These issues are at the heart of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s (OPC) investigation into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) Project Wide Awake initiative.

The initiative uses privacy impactful third-party services to collect personal information from a range of sources, including social media, forums, the dark web, location-based services and fee-for-access private databases. The data is used for a variety of policing purposes, including investigating suspected unlawful activity, locating missing persons, identifying suspects, detecting threats at public events attended by high-profile individuals, and maintaining situational awareness during an active situation.

The OPC’s investigation identified concerns related to both accountability and transparency, namely that the RCMP did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the personal information collection practices of all of its service providers were compliant with Canadian privacy law.

The Commissioner found possible violations of privacy law, particularly with the use of Babel X, and says the office made three specific recommendations, “none of which were accepted by the RCMP”. Alas, this office has little recourse; Facebook and Clearview could simply ignore the results of similar investigations.