SINCE EDWARD SNOWDEN'S REVELATIONS, it has been public knowledge that the US national security agencies are able to trawl search engine logs to identify who is searching for what, but that right has now been extended to a local police department.
Police in Edina, Minnesota, have been granted court order requiring that Google hands over the identities of all those searching for the name of a local victim of fraud. The warrant was granted by Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson.
The wiretap fraud case involves identity theft, with a falsified passport being faxed to a credit union from a spoofed phone number, by which means fraudsters were able to extract $28,500 from the account of a local resident Douglas (surname redacted).
Under the terms of the court order Google is required hand over the following information about anyone who searched for Douglas's name between 1 December 2016 and 7 January 2017: "Names, address(es), telephone number(s), dates of birth, social security numbers, email addresses, payment information, account information, IP addresses, and MAC addresses of the person(s) who requested/completed the search".
The court order came to light after it was discovered by Minneapolis journalist and public records activist Tony Webster.
"When police suspect a person of a crime, their internet searches are sometimes damning. But in these situations, police already have a suspect, forensically recovering internet history files from their devices to figure out what they searched," notes Webster in his blog, arguing that allowing a dragnet search of Google users by the police is to grant them a new and dangerous power, particularly given the relatively minor nature of the crime.
The spectre of police routinely using internet surveillance on a speculative basis rather than targeting people as the result of traditional investigative and police intelligence work is something that privacy campaigners have long warned against as a danger to democracy.
Google was served a subpoena at the same time as the court order was granted. While the company has not commented publicly, initial reports suggest it will fight the order. µ
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