Police in Minnesota want to solve a crime by combing through Google search history.
Officers in Edina, a city of around 50,000 people, got a warrant compelling Google to divulge information about people who searched for the name of a financial fraud victim between Dec. 1, 2016 and Jan. 7, 2017.
Someone convinced a credit union to wire $28,500 from an Edina man’s account by creating a fake passport using the man’s name alongside a photo of someone else.
In their warrant application, police stated that the fake photo came up by googling the victim’s name, but didn’t come up in other search engines. The warrant for the five-week period compels Google to hand over information regarding anyone who searched the victim’s name, including email addresses, social security numbers, birthdates, IP addresses and “information related to the content the user is viewing/using.”
Google, however, is not into coughing up user data.
“We will continue to object to this overreaching request for user data, and if needed, will fight it in court,” a Google spokesperson said in an email. “We always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.”
They may have a point about the breadth of the warrant. The Fourth Amendment forces those seeking a warrant to be specific about what they’re looking for.
Journalist Tony Webster, who first discovered the warrant signed on Feb. 1, questioned whether such warrants could be used to abuse governmental power.
“If Google were to provide personal information on anyone who Googled the victim’s name, would Edina Police raid their homes, or would they first do further investigative work?” Webster wrote. “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?”
Maybe we’ll find out in court.