In perhaps the first reported incident of its kind, a County judge in Minnesota, USA, has granted the Edina Police Department an extraordinary degree of access to citizens’ Google history, as cops attempt to crack the case of a wire transfer fraud.
The police want to know who in that affluent suburb has Googled a name – “Douglas” something, according to a warrant – the Forbes has reported.
People’s Google search history is not public and it is not usually available to local cops trying to bust a small-time swindler.
Yet the warrant requests the day and time of the search, though that’s not all. The warrant commands Google to divulge “name(s), 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.”
At a time when authorities across the world are showing increasing eagerness to track every movement and even the thoughts of every citizen in the name of national security, the judiciary, allowing the police to look into “any/all user or subscriber information,” is worrisome.
Political activists, peaceful anti-establishment folks, and any generally but peaceful subversive individual could be identified and rounded up through this process.
Expectedly, there was a fair amount of disbelief from privacy and legal experts, including from Elizabeth Joh, professor at UC Davis School of Law:
Independent journalist and public records activist, Tony Webster, who discovered the warrant asked: “The question is: what comes next? If you bought a pressure cooker on Amazon a month before the Boston bombing, do police get to know about it?”
Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.
The data from these searches is then stored on each individual who conducts them. Using this data or steering results in a particular direction, the internet behemoth could effectively influence the entire world. Aside from influence, Google could predict the future based on trends.
Much of this search history is tied location data retrieved from the device being used to conduct the query. So, the search engine has information on what your interests are. It also has a record of your specific interests based on where you are at any given moment.
Google initially rejected a subpoena from Hennepin County, but investigators are still arguing for the information. It’s unknown if Google is fighting the new order. A Google spokesperson said: “We aren’t able to comment on specific cases, but we will always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.”
A spokesperson from Edina Police Department said they could not comment on active investigations.