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Police Seek Private Phone Data for Everyone near a Crime Scene within Last Year


In a move that has alarmed civil rights advocates all over the country, in mid-March, police officers in North Carolina served Google with approximately five search warrants, demanding that the company hand over cell phone data for every single person who “in the vicinity” of various crimes over the last year.

Specifically, police were able to successfully secure warrants for “unique account identifier” of anyone with a Google app who was in the area during recent arson, murder, and sexual battery cases in Raleigh. In one case alone, the search area reportedly spanned 17 acres, encompassing not only private residences, but businesses as well.

What Gets Turned Over?

What kind of data, exactly, would the police initially receive under these warrants? Although they would only receive an anonymous account number with time-stamped location coordinates, police could then use this information to request identifying information from these accounts, such as names and birth dates.

How Is This Legal?

This constitutes what many privacy rights advocates would label a “fishing expedition” that could effectively ensnare anyone with a phone. There are also concerns that this could set a precedent for other states, such as Florida or Massachusetts.

According to Google, the company collects personal information, such as name, email, credit card, and telephone number to store with your account when you sign up for a Google Account. Some people also choose to create a publicly visible Google Profile, which can include a name and photo. In addition, when you use Google services, the company states that it “may collect and process information about your actual location.” They use GPS, IP address, and other sensors that can provide the company with information.

The company claims, however, that it does not share personal information with companies, organizations, and individuals outside of Google unless you provide consent, your Google Account is managed for you by a domain administrator, for external processing, or for “legal reasons,” which warrants could arguably fall under. The policy does not, however, mention anything explicitly about handing over information to law officials in response to a warrant, specifically.

Initially Done By State Bureau of Investigation

Police reportedly got the idea from the state’s Bureau of Investigation, which supposedly secured a similar warrant last year. At this time, it is still unclear as to whether Google complied with the warrants and turned over all of the data sought.

Consult a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have had your information turned over by a private company and now potentially face charges as a result, you need to speak with a criminal defense and civil rights attorney right away. Contact the experienced attorneys of the Baez Law Firm today—we represent clients throughout Florida and Massachusetts.



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