ComputerWorld: ACLU, public defenders push back against Google giving police your mobile data

February 2, 2023

“These warrants are patently unconstitutional,” said Tom McBrien, a law fellow with the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington DC. “They look through everyone’s location history within that geographical area to see where they were at the time.”

Geofence warrants violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution on several fronts, McBrien argued. First, the amendment requires that evidentiary warrants meet the “particularity requirement,” meaning police must be specific about what and who they’re seeking to find with the data. The warrants can’t turn into “fishing expeditions,” McBrien said.

Secondly, probable cause requires law enforcement to link a specific person or persons to a crime. Only in that case does the law allow the invasion of privacy that comes with geofence data access.

“Google has a rich database of user information,” McBrien said. “You either have a Google phone or you use a Google service. Google has made it very hard to opt out of location tracking. Even after turning off the specific feature on your mobile phone, Google can still track you through another [service or app]…such as Google Maps.”

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