Search warrant on Edina Google searches could have big implications
Mar 18 2017 by Joanne Wise
A search warrant issued to Edina police to collect information on people who used certain search terms on Google is raising concerns about constitutional violations.
"This kind of warrant is cause for concern because it's closer to these dragnet searches that the Fourth Amendment is created to prevent", William McGeveran, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, tells the Star Tribune, noting that if standards to obtain such a broad warrant aren't strong, it could become problematic in the future.
The warrant covers a month-long period of time from December 1, 2016 to January 7, 2017. Officers had initially requested the information directly from Google with an administrative subpoena, but the company declined. The warrant commands Google to divulge "any/all user or subscriber information"-including e-mail addresses, payment information, MAC addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, and IP addresses-of anybody who conducted a search for the victim's name". The criminal posed as the victim by faxing a fake United States passport to the bank. The image turned up on a fake passport used to trick a credit union to fraudulently transfer $28,500 out of an Edina man's account, police said. Other search engines did not turn up the photo.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the warrant, which was granted in February, aims to find anyone who searched for the name (or variations thereof) of an Edina, MN, resident who may have been the victim of identity theft. The warrant was granted by Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson. According to court documents, Lindman served it about 20 minutes later.
He's particularly concerned that the warrant amounts to a "fishing expedition" that exposes the whole town to an unlawful search.
However, the image used for the USA passport is publicly available on the internet through a Google search, but not on Yahoo or Bing, according to the warrant application.
People might say things like this are a hard blow on their privacy, and it is.
Both professors, along with an attorney from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit based in San Francisco, questioned whether the evidence obtained by Edina police would hold up in court. Because it's an active investigation, there's no way to know yet if Google challenged the warrant for being broad, vague, or unlawful, or if Google even has the data to provide. It's certainly a scary slippery slope that they're setting up here."Teresa Nelson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, stated, "There's really very little to connect the fact that there's a photo attainable on Google with the identity theft".