Police across the country have been attempting to use Google data and other information from social networks to help them solve cases. One recent story about the Raleigh Police Department shows how they have been using Google data to track down suspects, but in order to do it, they had to cast a wide net, obtaining information on all active users near at least four different crime scenes.
Ultimately, police were only able to solve one of these cases with the data that they obtained, but in the process, they violated the privacy of tens of thousands without them even knowing. In many cases, the fine print of these warrants restrict Google from making their customers aware of the searches, and this even applies to innocent users who were caught up the surveillance net.
City and county officials told WRAL that this is a “natural evolution of criminal investigative techniques.”
However, legal experts say that this is an unprecedented move that puts the privacy of many innocent people at risk.
Jonathan Jones, a former Durham prosecutor pointed out that if Google has your info, law enforcement probably does also.
“We are willingly sharing an awful lot of our lives with Google, but do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they’re also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?” Jones said.
Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, warned about the potential dangers of using the technology this way.
“From an average smartphone user’s perspective, it’s a little surprising once you start to learn the full scope of information about our locations and whereabouts and activities that companies like Google hold. At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people. Location information is really revealing and private about people’s habits and activities and what they’re doing,” Wessler said.
Through GPS data, Google knows your every move, which could be helpful to police, but it could also create a dystopian nightmare for everyday people.
The warrant below, obtained during a murder investigation in 2015, provided specific details about how the data will be collected and analyzed.
The warrant below, also obtained during a murder investigation, this time in 2016, allows police to obtain all cell phone data within 150 meters of a specific target, which could be thousands of people in a large city with tall buildings. This could also include people who drove by the location within the hours that the warrant allows.
Google’s most recent transparency report revealed that the government forced them to hand over information with 5,200 different warrants, and the company followed through with giving them information about 81% of the time. Out of all of those requests and all of that privacy violated, just four cases were solved using Google data.
Last week, I wrote an article comparing results from Google and Duck Duck Go and showed that in addition to tracking you, Google also provides a far inferior search engine.
Google became the most popular search engine on the web because it connected people with the links that were close to their searches while offering up a wide variety of different sources, but now it is obviously far past time to move onto more trusted platforms. In the early days of the internet, search engines and service providers like youtube acted as a gateway to the world, but over the years the most powerful of these companies have increasingly begun to act as gatekeepers, caving into pressure from the government.
Image: Valery Brozhinsky/Shutterstock.
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