Articles Tagged with reverse warrants

We all know that a warrant has many purposes: a search warrant entitles law enforcement to search specific persons or property; an arrest warrant identifies someone who will be going to jail. But what is a reverse warrant, and how does it impact you? The fact of the matter is these reverse warrants literally scoop up huge quantities of private information, never having identified a particular criminal suspect and never showing probable cause that the evidence they are seeking will be found in corporate databases being searched. 

Understanding Reverse Warrants

Law enforcement personnel have been using reverse warrants for years, and organizations like the ACLU have been increasingly alarmed.  That’s because such warrants look at wide groups of people, most of whom are not even suspected of criminal activity. These warrants have several uses, but the most widely used include:

  • Reverse location warrants, sometimes called geofence warrants, which are used to identify all the people who were within a particular area during a particular time;
  • Reverse keyword warrants, which are used to identify anyone who entered a specific word or group of words into their search engines during a particular time frame, often in a specific area.

More Reverse Warrants Every Year

Google, the biggest target of reverse warrants, has seen an increase of over 1000% in federal reverse warrants over a two-year period, with an over 800% increase in state/local law enforcement over the same time frame (California’s increase reached 813%).

Google Wants Out of the Geofence Business

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search, and it seems clear that throwing out a wide net in hopes of catching a criminal is invasive and unconstitutional. As Google felt pressure building to involve them in data collection, they moved location data that used to be sent to the corporation to now be stored in a user’s phone. Fundamentally, it takes Google out of the geofense equation, as they will no longer have access to user’s location information. As a result, fewer innocents will be dragged into law enforcement dragnets.

Reverse Keyword Searches

Despite progress with geofences, the problem with reverse keyword searches is still a huge issue, particularly in this age of shrinking women’s rights. The government still has access to the computer searches of countless Americans whose involvement in criminal activity is nonexistent. The unchecked power of law enforcement is being challenged in courtrooms across the country, but the battle is slow. Continue reading

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