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California Church Fined For Defying Covid Lockdowns Sues County For Tracking Worshipers Without Their Knowledge

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A church in California punished during Covid lockdowns with a fine of $1.2 million is now suing over geofencing-based surveillance of its members.

The church, Calvary Chapel San Jose, along with Pastor Mike McClure, allege in the federal lawsuit filed this week that Santa Clara County engaged in warrantless and invasive surveillance, using the geofencing method and thus abusing location data harvested from the worshipers’ phones.

The filing is based on claims that both the First Amendment related to free speech, and the Fourth Amendment, meant to protect against unlawful searches, were violated by the county as it resorted to spying via geofencing.

We obtained a copy of the complaint for you here.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a group that filed the lawsuit, specified that the county turned to the SafeGraph data company in order to carry out this activity, and accuses the officials behind the scheme as engaging in tracking of residents not only without appropriate warrants and in an invasive manner, but also keeping this activity a secret from the public.

“This type of expansive geofencing operation is not only an invasion of privacy but represents a terrifying precedent if allowed to go unaddressed,” the complaint states. “As it stands, Defendants assert that, as long as they call it research, any level of government can target and spy on any individual or group at any time for any duration.”

Related: Geofence Warrants Are Dangerous For Everyone

It is further alleged that the operation lasted more than a year, “with seemingly no oversight, boundaries, or limitations.” The implication of this is that those targeted by this controversial, dragnet-style surveillance weren’t safe from it anywhere – be it the prayer room or the bathroom.

Those behind the lawsuit also reject the arguments that the defendants have apparently chosen to go with, namely, that the whole operation was done for the sake of “research,” and is therefore justified.

But, argues Advocates for Faith & Freedom, accepting such logic would mean that there would be no real limits to how government entities at any level could use geofencing to track either groups or individuals. This lack of boundaries means that the spying could go on against anyone and for any amount of time – and potentially be used against opponents.

“This is not just un-American; it is downright Orwellian,” stated Advocates for Faith & Freedom.

Santa Clara County, meanwhile, had nothing to add to its previous comments on the matter, well before the lawsuit was filed. Back in March, the county reacted to a report about tracking of worshipers written by journalist David Zweig.

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