Cops Serve Warrant for Google Search Data On Entire Town Of Edina

Joanna Estrada
March 18, 2017

Try to imagine a police officer in the pre-internet era serving a search warrant on the phone company, wanting the names of everyone who looked up a certain number. Edina police declined to comment Thursday on the warrant, saying it is part of an ongoing investigation. It's a rare instance of US law enforcement using mass data collection to solve a petty crime, said Nate Cardozo, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The criminal pulled off the scheme by posing as the victim and faxing over a forged USA passport to the bank.

The Edina Police Department figured out that while searching Google Images for the victim's name, they found the photo used on the fake passport, and investigators couldn't find it on Yahoo or Bing. That's when Judge Gary Larson stepped in and issued a warrant demanding Google give the Edina Police Department "any/all user or subscriber information" of anybody who searched for the victim's name. His first name is "Douglas"- his last name was redacted in documents made public by reporter Tony Webster in order to protect him. For instance, it applies to only users located in Edina, which has a population of about 50,000 and looks only at queries made between last December and January 7.

Others are more anxious about the larger implications of the police action.

- A search warrant requested by Edina Police and approved by a Hennepin County Judge this past February is raising privacy concerns.

USA authorities regularly do subpoena internet companies such as Google for information relating to criminal investigations. "If the standards for getting a broad warrant like this are not strong, you can have a lot of police fishing expeditions". "Here, the warrant appears to be much like one of those general warrants that allows the police to sift through the web searches of many people in the town".

A lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit based in San Francisco, tells the Star Tribune that the evidence collected through the search warrant might not stand up to muster if it goes to court, and that Google could also challenge the warrant. "The DEA could get a search warrant on whoever emailed a marijuana dispensary". "But in these situations, police already have a suspect, forensically recovering internet history files from their devices to figure out what they searched", notes Webster in his blog, arguing that allowing a dragnet search of Google users by the police is to grant them a new and unsafe power, particularly given the relatively minor nature of the crime.

It's unclear if the internet company ever gave up the data.

Google has not spoken publicly about the case, but they did tell Ars in an email that they "will always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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