What? Police Using Google Violates the Fourth Amendment

There is a popular new move law enforcements are using, which proves to be effective.  During a bank robbery that happened earlier this year in Midlothian, Virginia, a gunman entered a bank.  He stole $195,000 from a safe while holding a worker at gunpoint.  The security camera captured the man on his cell phone right before the robbery took place.

This was a critical factor in capturing the criminal.  Weeks went by as the suspect could not be identified, so one officer set out to get a warrant for Google’s location data from every cell phone in the area.  There were 19 people’s names that came up, and the police narrowed down the suspect to Okello Chatrie, a 24-year-old from Richmond, Virginia.

Collecting Google’s data is known as a geofence warrant.  It allows authorities to use the vast amounts of data available on every customer.  It can assist the cops in tracking down perpetrators who are using any google app such as Gmail or Google maps.

There is just one problem with using this technique.  It violates the Fourth Amendment, and it is illegal.  Many people are concerned because this gives the government access to personal and private information.  It is excellent for catching criminals, but it also provides access to innocent Google customers.

It also gives the defense a case which can help criminals as Chatrie walk away Scott free from a felony.  That is precisely what his lawyers are banking on.  This also makes the very first case where the defendant is fighting the geofence warrant.

Chatrie’s lawyers stated, “It is the digital equivalent of searching every home in the neighborhood of a reported burglary or searching the bags of every person walking along Broadway because of a theft in Times Square.

Without the name or number of a single suspect, and without ever demonstrating any likelihood that Google even has data connected to a crime, law enforcement invades the privacy of tens or hundreds or thousands of individuals, just because they were in the area.”

Prosecutors responded, “The geofence warrant allowed them to solve the crime and protect the public by examining a remarkably limited and focused set of records from Google.”  The argument also is the law enforcement did not use anyone’s data, which was not involved in the robbery.

Privacy advocates and defense attorneys are saying geofence warrants are becoming more popular by the day as it is capturing more and more criminals every day.  Cases have been documented from Minnesota, North Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, and other states.

There are also contractors looking to help the police who use the warrants.  Over the last two years, there was recorded 19,046 geofence warrants were issued from July 2018 to June 2019.

Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who is with the American Civil Liberties Union, states the argument against geofence warrants is legit.  He said, “Americans shouldn’t have to rely on closed-door negotiations between a private company and a prosecutor to protect their data.

We need a court to step in to make sure rules are set so we don’t end up in a society where police can get access to a lot of bystanders’ information in the course of looking for a guilty person.  Cases like this aren’t just about criminal defendants. It’s about all of our rights under the Constitution.”

Andrew Crocker, who is an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says there will be added concerns as the information on more people using Google continues to grow.  He stated, “I think we’re going to see more courts having to wrestle with this idea.  Can the government do this needle-in-a-haystack search? Can they go to companies that have these vast databases on individuals and say, ‘Look through this and tell us who we should be suspicious of and go after?'”

No matter how anyone looks at this case and those using the geofence warrants, there honestly is a legit argument for both sides.  It seems with all of the technology we have at our fingertips today, there should be something that can only gather information from only the phone of a perpetrator.

If it were a perfect world, this would be the best way to solve crimes.  Unfortunately, it is not an ideal world, and some idiots would use this source for the wrong reasons.  If used by the wrong people, something like this could be devastating to an innocent individual.  It could also fuel the fire for many conspiracy theories.