Explosion in Geofence Warrants Threatens Privacy Nationwide

New figures from Google show a tenfold increase in the requests from law enforcement, which target anyone who happened to be in a given location at a specified time.

POLICE AROUND THE country have drastically increased their use of geofence warrants, a widely criticized investigative technique that collects data from any user’s device that was in a specified area within a certain time range, according to new figures shared by Google. Law enforcement has served geofence warrants to Google since 2016, but the company has detailed for the first time exactly how many it receives.

The report shows that requests have spiked dramatically in the past three years, rising as much as tenfold in some states. In California, law enforcement made 1,909 requests in 2020, compared to 209 in 2018. Similarly, geofence warrants in Florida leaped from 81 requests in 2018 to more than 800 last year. In Ohio, requests rose from seven to 400 in that same time.

Across all 50 states, geofence requests to Google increased from 941 in 2018 to 11,033 in 2020 and now make up more than 25 percent of all data requests the company receives from law enforcement.

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