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Analysis of Warrants Reveal Investigators Are Using Google Data To Try and Solve Non-Violent Crimes

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When phone owners have a Google account and wittingly – but most likely, unwittingly – use their devices in a way that freely tracks their location and browsing history, of course it will become too tempting a mass collection of personal data for a flurry of law enforcement agencies to access.

But if this data harvested by Google – and associated tools – is so readily available via warrants, it isn’t surprising at all that the police would want to use it to achieve what reports say are “shortcuts.”

So the focus should be squarely on Google, and the courts. Why are these “shortcuts” available, what does the use of them entail, and what does the big picture of their deployment spell out, at this point in time?

Related: Google geofence warrants are increasing at an alarming rate

The way it works, “on the ground level,” is a law enforcement agency such as the police being able to obtain a search warrant and demand that Google provides a list of everyone who happens to be in the vicinity of a crime – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a serious, or a not-violent one.

They will likely be in luck – since as reports note, “Google maintains one of the world’s most comprehensive repositories of location information.” Hopefully if not most, then a lot of people by now know how it goes: the phone you carry connects to cell towers, Wi-Fi networks, and if you let Google (or a myriad other apps that seemingly needlessly request it in their permissions) follow you around with your location turned on – there you go.

There’s a gun, figuratively speaking, pointed at everybody’s head – that not a lot of people are even aware of. Until, of course, it goes off. And that would be the fact that one of the biggest corporations in the world, that is clearly closely cooperating with (at least one, but realistically more than one) government, has all the information to pinpoint your location within meters.

But while the cops, and others, can learn about your location in the context of a crime, the actual value of that ability has thus far supposedly proved to be disappointing.

“Bloomberg Businessweek collected and analyzed 115 warrants for the company’s location and search data in five states (…) The analysis, based on search warrants filed from 2020 to 2023 with courthouses in Austin, Denver, Phoenix, Raleigh and San Francisco, showed that departments used them not only to solve violent crimes but also for more routine offenses,” the outlet writes.

And – “About 1 in 5 location warrants were for offenses such as theft and vandalism. A detective in Scottsdale, Arizona, got one in search of somebody accused of stealing a Louis Vuitton handbag. In that investigation and many others, the Google data offered nothing useful.”

Or it may not have offered anything anyone wanted to use.

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, join Reclaim The Net.

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