Did a Typo Violate Your Privacy?

(LibertyInsider.org) – When law enforcement is looking for answers involving a suspected crime, they usually exhaust all avenues. One of those avenues might be securing a geofence warrant, one which requires a provider to search its user location data in order to pinpoint users who might have been within a specific area during a specific time period. Civil liberties advocates argue that these are unconstitutional and overbroad because they put innocent people at risk. Now, one “suspected typo” is being used as an example.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California reviewed several geofence warrants sought by law enforcement in San Francisco when one caught the organization’s eye. In a blog by Jake Snow dated January 7, he noticed one “that apparently contained an alarming error,” likely the result of a typo. Instead of focusing on a specific area, the warrant sought to gather information on a two-mile radius.

In this radius, there were hundreds of private homes, as well as several prominent buildings, including the Civic Center Courthouse, Rosa Parks Senior Center, United Nations Building, and the State of California Building. That’s a lot of data to capture on a lot of people in a two-mile radius in a big city like San Francisco, home to more than 800,000 people and countless tourists. In noting the error, Snow posed the question, “How many other mistakes exist in the thousands of requests received and granted by Google?”

Activists argue that the issuance of geofence warrants is a violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.” Others argue that it’s legal under the Third Party Doctrine, which states that people who willingly give their information to third parties relinquish “reasonable expectation of privacy.” The issue is one that divides courts and is likely to end up before the Supreme Court.

At the end of 2023, Google announced it was going to change how user information was stored. The Big Tech company plans to allow users to store their location data on their own devices and move away from Google servers. That would effectively take the decision out of Google’s hands.

Copyright 2024, LibertyInsider.org