If You’re Close to the Scene of a Crime, Police Can Demand Google Hand Over Your Data


Authored by Aaron Kesel via TheMindUnleashed.com,

The Gainesville Police Department suspected an innocent man was involved in a burglary so naturally they requested that Google give them all of his location data.

Google’s legal investigations support team wrote to Zachary McCoy telling him that local police were demanding information related to his Google account. Google replied and said it would release the data unless McCoy went to court and tried to block the request, NBC reported.

The man then searched his case number on the Gainesville Police Department website where he found a one-page report on the burglary of an elderly woman’s home ten months earlier on March 29, 2009. Unfortunately for McCoy, the crime occurred less than a mile from the home that he shared with his two roommates.

Caleb Kenyon, McCoy’s lawyer, said he was subject of a “geofence warrant.” A geofence warrant is essentially a virtual dragnet over crime scenes where police request to sweep up Google location data drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular connections from everyone who is near a crime scene.

From this blanket of surveillance law enforcement then try to figure out which phones may be tied to suspects or possible witnesses. According to journalist Tony Webster, “Law enforcement officials say it’s a promising new technique.”

A reverse location search warrant differs from a traditional search warrant in that it doesn’t identify a suspect and establish probable cause to ask for evidence of a suspect’s crimes. Instead, it asks for information about everyone in an area at a certain time, working backwards to identify a suspect.

McCoy used an exercise-tracking app, RunKeeper, to record his rides. The app relied on his phone’s location services, that were then fed to Google. He looked up his route on the day of the burglary and saw that he had passed the victim’s house three times within an hour, part of his frequent loops through his neighborhood.

It was a nightmare scenario,” McCoy recalled.

I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime. And I was the lead suspect.”

McCoy ended up fighting back and winning, resulting in the police dropping their warrant request with the help of his lawyer.

But this isn’t the first time a blanket surveillance warrant has been used, last year in New York law enforcement used a “geofence warrant” against the Proud Boys, a group of pro-Trump rightwing extremists after they allegedly beat up four leftist protesters, believed to be associated with Antifa, outside an Upper East Side event. The four protesters refused to cooperate with police, and authorities were unable to identify them.

As part of their attempt to find their identities, prosecutors sent Google a warrant for phone records near the conflict. However, they ended up collecting multiple innocent people around the area under their dragnet as well, even though they had nothing to do with the crime. Exactly like what happened with McCoy.

And in just one year, 22 Google reverse location search warrants were issued in the state of Minnesota alone.

This type of warrant has privacy and civil liberties advocates concerned. They’re noting that the search has constitutional issues due to protections from unreasonable searches. However, police argue the information alone is not enough to justify charging someone with a crime. But in another case in Arizona, a man was mistakenly arrested and jailed for a murder he didn’t commit, which was largely based on Google data received from a geofence warrant.

Normally we think of the judiciary as being the overseer, but as the technology has gotten more complex, courts have had a harder and harder time playing that role,” said Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union about another case of using geofence surveillance.We’re depending on companies to be the intermediary between people and the government.


  1. Remember the good old days when Amendments meant things?
    The most infuriating thing is when you show this to people are their reply is “well is you have nothing to hide…” Dolts.

  2. This is only of value to the police so long as the criminal element remains dumb and unaware of this potential. As soon as the average criminal hears enough about this sort of thing, the light bulb will go off in their deviant little minds, and they’ll start leaving their cell phones at home or figuring out some way to use them to create an alibi or spoof the system.

    It’s the ratchet effect, the ever-persistent battle between technologists. Just like with guns and the armor-makers… Better gun, pretty soon you have better armor being developed.

    Inasmuch as you might be concerned about civil liberties and state repression, just recognize that the eventual outcome will be the utter destruction of the entities doing this crap, because once they actually start using it, the incentive to render it ineffective and irrelevant will go up, and it will come under attack. Remember that guy who created empty streets in Berlin, by hauling around a wagon with dozens of cell phones in it, making Google Maps think that there were traffic jams…?

    Same thing is going to happen with China. The main reason the Soviet Union collapsed was that everyone ceased to believe the lie, and was doing a fiddle on the side somewhere. Eventually, the contradictions grew too great, and the whole thing just caved in under the weight of the hypocrisy. States can only exist in that narrow band of “not annoying enough to piss off Joe Average” and “effective enough to get the majority to follow the rules”. Outside that band, the eventual repercussions of the hypocrisy will eventually do a positive feedback loop sort of thing, and it’ll oscillate entirely out of control the way the Soviet Union did. China’s Communist Party thinks it has the answer in their little “social credit” schemes, but what’s going to happen is that the traditional Chinese cynicism and lack of respect for authority is going to assert itself, and the public will start making use of all the little nooks and crannies, selling favors, nudging things, lying their asses off to the monitors. Eventually, you won’t be able to trust anything in the system, because everyone will be lying to it. What’s more is that the system is designed to build ever-increasing numbers of men and women with nothing left to lose, and no investment in the existing system–Which will serve to destabilize it even more. The CCP thinks it is building a totalitarian system for eternity, but what they’re actually doing is building something that will eventually blow up and take most of China with it. You can’t exert that amount of control over people–It simply will not work, and the lessons of the past will again become clear: The more control you reach for, the less you’ll actually have. The totalitarian dream is doomed until they can manage to somehow redesign the people they’re trying to implement it on, and if they ever achieve that, the reality is that a nation of sheep will be overtaken by the competing monkeys on their borders.

    All this control BS is ephemeral. You’ll be able to make it work for some short time, perhaps measured in generations, but in the long term? LOL… Look how well Stalin’s little implementation worked out, and how the whole thing played out within less than 40 years. All it took to turn the “New Soviet Man” into a chiselling backstabbing thief of state resources was two generations under the Communists, and they still haven’t recovered. It’s possible that Russia never will.


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