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Geo-fence warrant blast threatens US privacy

Police nearby According to new figures shared by Google, the country has dramatically increased the use of geo-fence warrants. This is a much-criticized research method that collects data from all users in a certain area within a certain time frame. Law enforcement agencies have been issuing geo-fence orders to Google since 2016, but for the first time, the company has detailed the exact number of receipts.

According to reports, requests have skyrocketed in the past three years and requests have increased tenfold in some states. In California alone, law enforcement filed 1,909 requests last year, compared to 209 in 2018. Similarly, Florida geo-fence warrants have risen from 81 in 2018 to more than 800 last year. In Ohio, applications rose from 7 to 400 in the same time frame.

Across all 50 states, Google’s geofence requests have increased from 941 in 2018 to 11,033 in 2020, which now accounts for more than 25% of all data requests the company receives from law enforcement agencies.

“It’s so invasive that it should be a last resort.”

Jake Laperruque, POGO

A single geofence request can contain data from hundreds of bystanders. In 2019, a single arson warrant sent about 1,500 device IDs to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Dozens of civil liberties and privacy advocates have called for a ban on the technology, claiming it violates Article 4 of the Constitutional Amendment’s protections against unwarranted searches, especially for protesters. Now, Google’s transparency report reveals the scale at which people across the country may have faced the same breach.

“There’s always collateral damage,” said Jake Laperuk, senior policy advisor for the Constitution Project, a nonprofit government oversight project. Geo-fence orders are inherently broad and can give police access to location data of people unrelated to criminal activity.

In a statement to WIRED, Google proactively protects user privacy while supporting the critical work of law enforcement agencies. Designed to narrow the scope of data and respect legal obligations. We have developed a process for these requests, which has been disclosed. “

Just this week, Forbes granted to police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, access to user data on bystanders near libraries and museums who fired shots last August during a protest following the murder of George Floyd. I made it clear that I did. Google gave “GPS coordinates and data, device data, device IDs” and timestamps to everyone in the library for two hours. 25 minutes at the museum. Similarly, the Minneapolis Police Department asked for Google user data from someone in the “geographical area” of a suspected robber at the AutoZone store last year, two days after the protests began.

Laperruque argues that geo-fence warrants can have a “horrifying effect” as people waive their right to protest for fear of being controlled. This week, Congresswoman Kenosha discussed a bill that would make participating in a “riot” a crime. Critics pointed out that such a bill could punish those who participate in peaceful demonstrations that become violent because of someone else’s actions. Likewise, geo-fence data is not only loosely associated with someone else in the crowd, but the fact that you are there in the first place can be used as evidence of sin.

Geo-fence warrants work differently from regular search warrants. Police officers typically identify suspects or interested persons, obtain warrants from judges, and search for that person’s home or belongings.

With Geofence’s guarantee, the police will start at the time and place of the alleged crime and ask Google for data about the devices around that place. Usually within 1-2 hours. If Google complies, you’ll get a list of anonymized data about devices in your area. GPS coordinates, a timestamp that was in the area, and an anonymized identifier (Reverse Location Obfuscation Identifier (RLOI)).

Geo-fence warrant blast threatens US privacy