The RCMP Canadian Firearms Program and associated enforcement units are as varied as their roles. One of the most interesting components of said investigative units is the Firearms Internet Investigation Support Unit, or RCMP FIISU.
According to an Access to Information request from the illustrious Dennis R. Young dated 5 March 2014, the FIISU has the following mandate:
“The Firearms Internet Investigation Support Unit provides a range of internet support services, both in the firearms applicant screening process and directly to front-line police officers. The unit gathers information from a variety of online sites that are accessible to the public. The internet unit has two service components: In its primary role, the unit provides CFOs and investigating Firearms Officers with any information uncovered during an internet search of firearm license applicants and licensed clients under continuous eligibility to support their regulatory/public safety investigations. The secondary role consists of open source searches of internet sites identifying public safety risk from firearms and criminal activities relating to firearms. The information gleaned from this area of the internet is forwarded to the police of jurisdiction for further investigation. The unit also supports ongoing firearms investigations by police upon request.”
At the time of Mr. Young’s ATIP, the RCMP FIISU was comprised of a handful of civilian employees (six, at the time of the ATIP request) and one sworn police officer. The total salary expenditure for the FIISU was $943,032. Likewise, in 2013 the FIISU screened 2,736 restricted firearms license applicants. 59 of those screening efforts resulted in supplemental files identifying potential public safety risks. The FIISU also screened 732 random firearms license applicants and found 22 resulted in supplemental files identifying public safety risks. Additionally. RCMP FIISU screened 78 licensed gun owners for continued eligibility, conducted 23 investigations at the request of the Canadian Firearms Program and registry, handled 100 National Weapons Enforcement Support Teams, and opened 27 files for police investigation from open source internet activities.
According to the 2016 Commissioner Report on Firearms, which recounts the FIISU activities in much less detail, the unit has screened 2,293 license applicants, conducted 138 internet investigations, and received 86 requests from law enforcement agencies for internet screening services in 2016. The report does not specify how many supplemental files resulted from these investigatory efforts, nor how many investigations were triggered by open source efforts.
So what does the RCMP FIISU do?
Well, from the ATIP provided by Mr. Young, the FIISU’s primary task is the screening and investigating of firearm license applicants and “licensed clients,” otherwise known as licensed gun owners. The secondary role is defined as “open source searches of internet sites.” In intelligence and investigative communities, open sources are those available to the public, such as social media and internet forums. These sources generate open source intelligence, or OSINT, which in this context would be forwarded to the relevant law enforcement agency for further investigation with the support of the FIISU.
Criteria for FIISU Investigation
Interestingly, Mr. Young’s ATIP also delved into the policies of the FIISU, attempting to identify a cogent criteria for FIISU investigatory efforts. In conventional surveillance methodology, oftentimes law enforcement officers must adhere to strict rules to prevent undue breach of privacy; perhaps the most famous of these is the recurrent pop culture theme of surveillance officers limiting their surveillance to discussions relevant to the investigation. In the case of the FIISU, investigations are conducted “using a standard of reasonableness based on the language of Section 5 of the Firearms Act.” This section reads: “A person is not eligible to hold a license it if is desireable, in the interests of the safety of that person or any other person, that the person possess a firearm, a cross-bow, a prohibited weapon, a restricted weapon, a prohibited device, ammunition or prohibited ammunition.”
The ATIP continues; “FIISU investigators make judgment calls about what a reasonable person would consider a potentially affecting the public’s safety. FIISU does not maintain any established criteria or list of public safety risks.”
According to RCMP statistics gleaned from the Commision’s report, Canadian Firearms Program queries in general appear to be trending downward; from 6.6 million queries in 2012 to 6.1 million in 2016. However, as reported yesterday, the FIISU is growing, undoubtedly in response to the ever larger role the internet plays in the modern world. Likewise, it’s reasonable to expect the FIISU to evolve, as evidenced by the latest job posting from the FIISU discussion 3D printing and TAILS experience.