A Minnesota judge ordered Google to disclose personal information about all users from Edina, Hennepin County who have recently searched for the name of a particular fraud victim, as revealed on Monday by public records researcher Tony Webster who published a controversial warrant that was issued in early February. The perpetrator of the fraud tried to conduct a wire transfer using a fake passport that contained a picture of the victim and authorities explained that Google’s image search of the victim’s name reveals the very same picture, while other Internet search engines fail to display it. Due to that state of affairs, authorities believe that the perpetrator used Google to identify their victim, which Judge Gary Larson concluded was grounds for a warrant. The Mountain View-based tech giant is now supposed to provide personally identifiable information on everyone who searched for the victim’s name between December of last year and January 7, 2017. Among other things, authorities are seeking names, addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, and IP addresses of users from Google.
Webster claims that the warrant itself is illegal as it isn’t based on a probable cause and was instead issued on the basis of a theory. Given how authorities don’t have a particular suspect, the Alphabet-owned company shouldn’t be required to disclose personal information from all users who have searched for the victim’s name using Google, the public records researcher claims. Additionally, even if authorities manage to identify a suspect from the data acquired through the controversial warrant, their method could easily be thrown out in the court of law, Webster argues, adding that such an inclusive warrant could compromise the privacy of neighbors, journalists, potential employers, and other people who have searched for the victim’s name due to perfectly legitimate reasons.
The Mountain View-based Internet company has a policy of not commenting on individual cases, but the firm reportedly said that it will always oppose “excessively broad requests” for user data when inquired about this particular matter. If successfully executed, the warrant issued by Judge Larson may serve as a precedent for similar vague warrants seeking user data from tech companies, meaning Google likely already refused to comply.