Criminal law has entered the digital age. Every day, the privacy of innocent people is compromised as law enforcement officials scoop up information about them while executing routine search warrants involving someone else. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a warrant was required for law enforcement to be able to access historical data about an accused person’s cell phone location over several weeks. This ruling, however, does not address the use of geo-fence warrants by law enforcement officials when seeking to identify the perpetrators or witnesses to a crime.
Geo-Fence Warrant in Action
The police department in a suburb of Phoenix obtained a search warrant to identify the perpetrators and witnesses to a crime. They asked Google to provide information about any and all devices it recorded near the crime site to identify suspects and witnesses. Independent video surveillance showed the vehicle of interest was a white Honda Civic. The video did not capture an image of the driver or license plate number.
Sensorvault is a global database maintained by Google to capture and record personal information about its users. Where you go with your friends, what you read, eat, listen to, and watch, and when these activities happen are all recorded.
For years, technology companies have responded to court orders and search warrant to reveal specific user information. That is and remains legal. Under the geo-warrants, a single warrant can collect location information on dozens or hundreds of devices at or near the area of interest.
Geo-fence warrants are just one of the technological advancements that have improved criminal investigations in California and North Carolina, Florida, Minnesota, and Washington, other states that routinely use these types of warrants during criminal investigations.
Apple states that it is not able to perform these types of searches involving their iOS devices. However, Google software is the culprit, and that software can be downloaded onto an iPhone. The software, not the device, tracks user’s location and other data.
Review and Understand Your Privacy Settings
Selling you location data is a lucrative business for Google and companies that track your information to share with themselves or others. To protect yourself against intrusion, understand the location history setting on your mobile devices and portable computers. If you routinely travel with your smartphone and tablet, the feature must be disabled on all devices to avoid being tracked. The location history setting enables users to see what information is being tracked and recorded. Users can opt to delete their location and account history permanently, but future information must also be purged or it will remain on their website in perpetuity. Continue reading