by Matt Agorist, The Free Thought Project:
Everyone reading this knows that there are few things on the internet more revealing than their internet search data. It is for this reason that police must seek out a warrant for an actual suspect in order to obtain said data. However, a recently unsealed court document found that government can request such data in reverse order by asking Google to disclose everyone who searched a keyword rather than for information on a known suspect.
To spell it out more clearly, authorities can simply pick a search term and construct a warrant around it without anyone being accused of a crime or being a suspect in a crime, and then Google will simply hand over their data. What could possibly go wrong?
The court files in question that exposed this Orwellian nightmare are from the arrest of Michael Williams, an associate of singer and accused sex offender R. Kelly, for allegedly setting fire to a witness’ car in Florida.
Authorities told Google that they needed information on all “users who had searched the address of the residence close in time to the arson.”
As CNET reports, documents showed that Google provided the IP addresses of people who searched for the arson victim’s address, which investigators tied to a phone number belonging to Williams. Police then used the phone number records to pinpoint the location of Williams’ device near the arson, according to court documents.
While this instance may not seem too intrusive to some, consider the fact of how easily the state was able to obtain search information on completely innocent people.
“This ‘keyword warrant’ evades the Fourth Amendment checks on police surveillance,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “When a court authorizes a data dump of every person who searched for a specific term or address, it’s likely unconstitutional.”
The keyword warrants are similar to geofence warrants, in which police make requests to Google for data on all devices logged in at a specific area and time. Google received 15 times more geofence warrant requests in 2018 compared with 2017, and five times more in 2019 than 2018. The rise in reverse requests from police have troubled Google staffers, according to internal emails.
Naturally, Google, whose been ensnared in controversy after controversy, released a statement claiming that they protect the privacy of its users — unless of course the government tells them to do otherwise.