Google’s Use of Search Data Challenged in Criminal Cases Google’s Use of Search Data Challenged in Criminal Cases

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By Ronald Tech

Privacy rights advocates are taking issue with how law enforcement leverages Alphabet IncGOOG GOOGL search data in criminal investigations. A recent case involving a 2016 rape in Pennsylvania has shed light on the contentious use of keyword search warrants.

In response to a warrant, Google provided the IP address of a user who had searched for the victim’s address, ultimately leading to the arrest and conviction of a corrections officer. However, critics argue that this investigative technique is overly broad, potentially infringes on innocent individuals’ privacy rights, and should be deemed unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Michael Price, Litigation Director at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Fourth Amendment Center, likened keyword search warrants to “digital dragnets” that allow the government to invade the privacy of citizens. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has also raised concerns about the proliferation of geofence warrants and their potential for misuse, particularly in states with strict abortion laws.

The use of keyword search warrants has gained particular attention following the Supreme Court’s recent abortion-related decision. Furthermore, a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in October, which permitted evidence obtained from a keyword search warrant to be used in a murder case, has intensified worries about the broad application of Google’s search data.

Amid mounting pressure, Google recently ceased responding to geofence warrants, signaling a shift in its approach to law enforcement requests. This move has reinforced the urgency for courts to assess the constitutionality of keyword search warrants, especially as police continue to seek new investigative tools.


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