Geofence warrants are “requests” by law enforcement for information on everyone that was in a particular geographic area during a particular time window.
Typically they use the results to come up with the usual list of suspects. The initial response usually doesn’t include names and addresses; that comes after the police mine all the data that they got. Also note that they do not delete that data. Possibly for ever.
Lets say there was a burglary at 1 Park Avenue in New York on Saturday morning, maybe around 6 AM. The NYPD might ask Google to give them data on everyone in a 4 block area surrounding 1 Park between midnight and noon that day.
The police would need to convince a judge that this is reasonable, but that does not tend to be that hard.
How I know that it is not hard is by looking at the numbers.
In 2018 before geofence warrants were popular, Google responded to 982 of these warrants.
Last year, they responded to over 11,000 of them.
GOOGLE IS OF COURSE ONLY ONE COMPANY GETTING SUCH WARRANTS. Every big tech company gets them.
Google really hasn’t said much in response to this. In fairness to them, they have to comply with the law.
But the reason these are becoming very popular is the sheer amount of data we choose share with Google. From location tracking to maps to queries to all kinds of stuff, Google is awash in your data.
In one case, in 2020, the data indicated that one Zachery McCoy was the police’s prime suspect and in this case, Google told him about the warrant (they can’t and don’t always tell). He was using an app to track his bike riding and it put him near a burglary.
Ignore, for the moment, that any half-way intelligent crook will power off his or her phone before going out on the town to loot, pillage, maim and whatever.
McCoy had to spend his own money to eventually exonerate himself – after other evidence emerged.
Such is the danger of our super connected world.
Convenience and surveillance. Wonderful. Credit: Threatpost