Google Report Spotlights Uptick in Controversial ‘Geofence Warrants’ by Police

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Digital privacy rights defenders contend that geofencing warrants grab data on everyone near a crime, without cause.

Newly released data by Google sheds light on a controversial practice called “geofence warrants”, which describes the practice of law enforcement requesting mobile phone data of users within close proximity of a crime.

Google said, in an August report, the number of geofence warrants the company received from law enforcement agencies jumped from 982 in 2018 to 11,554 in 2020.

The warrants allow law enforcement to demand data from phones used within the vicinity of a crime. The tactic allows investigators to identify potential suspects or witnesses to illegal activity.

“Since the start of 2018, we have seen a rise in the number of search warrants in the United States that order Google to identify users, based on their Location History information, who may have been in a given area within a certain time,” Google said.

GPS Police: Probable Cause Casualty  

In some instances, Google has alerted users that police requested their data. For example, in 2020 Zachary McCoy received an email from Google notifying him that police investigators had demanded his location data for a specific date as

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