We’re only aware of the search warrant because an individual who had their information given to the police by Google, Said Abdullahi, received an email from Google letting him know that the information had been handed over. Abdullahi then turned this information over to TechCrunch, who were able to get their hands on the geofence warrant. This is part of Google’s transparency push which alerts users when governments have accessed account information via a warrant or if an account has been the victim of suspected state actor hacking. In this particular reverse location search warrant, Google handed over information on hundreds of individuals. In their request, the police noted that they were really hoping to identify an individual known as “Umbrella man” who is shown on video starting the violence. Umbrella man hasn’t been charged yet, and instead we have hundreds of people who have had their privacy violated simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Often, Google employees said, the company responds to a single warrant with location information on dozens or hundreds of devices. After receiving a warrant, Google gathers location information from its database, Sensorvault, and sends it to investigators, with each device identified by an anonymous ID code.
Reverse location search warrants are likely unconstitutionalA district court in Virginia has even previously found that reverse location search warrants – or geofence warrants – are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment . Abdullahi told TechCrunch:
“Police assumed everybody in that area that day is guilty. If one person did something criminal, [the police] should not go after the whole block of people.”Some states, like New York, are trying to pass legislation that would forbid these types of geofence warrants; however, sans a binding decision or legislation at the federal level, these types of warrants will continue to be used against the populace. Google notes that the frequency of these types of warrants is increasing year after year. All of this after action privacy violation via companies like Google stacks on top of the active privacy violations that may have occurred on the ground , as well.