It’s a drag ‘net.
Cops in North Carolina have served Google with at least five sweeping search warrants demanding the cell phone data for every single person who happened to be in the vicinity of various crimes over the past year, according to a new report.
Police in Raleigh drew circles around the crime scenes of recent murder, sexual battery and arson cases, and successfully assured warrants for the unique account identifiers of anyone with a Google app who was in the area at the time, TV news station WRAL reports.
In one case, the search area spanned 17 acres, encompassing homes and businesses, the station reports.
It’s not clear if Google complied or not — and neither party would say — but the returned warrants in several cases note that cops seized “data.” And the police department says it learned of the tactic after the state’s Bureau of Investigation secured a similar warrant last year.
The data from Google is an anonymous account number with time-stamped location coordinates, but police planned to use that info to then request names, birth dates and other identifying information from accounts it was interested in.
“We’re not getting text messages or emails or phone calls without having to go through a different procedure and having additional information that might lead us to a specific individual,” Wake County district attorney Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman told WRAL while defending the tactic.
But digital privacy advocates were appalled at what they dubbed a “fishing expedition” that could ensnare anyone with a phone.
“To just say, ‘Criminals commit crimes, and we know that most people have cell phones,’ that should not be enough to get the geo-location on anyone that happened to be in the vicinity of a particular incident during a particular time,” Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the news station.