It has emerged that Google has shared keyword search data with law enforcement agencies. As reported by Engadget, there are concerns that this may violate human rights.
Google's collaboration and data sharing with law enforcement agencies have been a contentious issue for a while. It emerged back in 2019 just how reliant law enforcement agencies were on Google's location data to solve crimes.
This led to a number of high profile requests for this data getting rejected by judges. There were concerns about the privacy of innocent individuals with the use of this data.
Now it looks like there could be more backlash as it has emerged Google has shard more user data with the authorities. Even worse in this case is the fact that it may have violated constitutional rights.
Google shares search data with law enforcement authorities
Court documents show that Google handed over IP addresses for users who searched for an address. They looked at users who did this before someone set fire to the car of a witness in the racketeering case against accused sex offender R. Kelly.
The data handed over led to the arrest of Michael Williams, an associate of R. Kelly’s, on charges of both arson and witness tampering.
After agents linked the IP address to Williams' phone number they could gain a warrant for details of is Google account. This led them to find searched phrases such as “witness intimidation” and “countries that don’t have extradition with the United States".
Agents then obtained a location search warrant from Verizon. This allowed them to find out that Williams' phone travelled his town of Valdosta, Georgia to Kissimmee, Florida, where the witness lives.
The filing was first made in July but only made public recently in October.
Google search data may get challenged on civil rights claim
Williams' lawyer plans to challenge the warrant for allegedly violating his client’s rights. Generally, warrants should only target a small group of likely suspects. In this case, it targeted everyone indiscriminately.
These types of instances have been dubbed as 'reverse' warrants which also include Geofence location warrants. Google originally declined to comment on the matter and has not disclosed the number of these search word warrants it received since 2017.
However, since then Google Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado made a statement. He said that "We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement."
He also pointed out that Google requires "a warrant and push to narrow the scope of these particular demands when overly broad" in these instances.
This case and the handling of it further puts scrutiny on the way police gather evidence. It also raises questions about the willingness of big tech companies. How this all plays out could have a major impact on the way data can be handled in the future.