Google is sharing user data tied to search keywords with law enforcement

The filing had been submitted in July, but wasn’t made public until October 6th.

The fire happened outside a home in Kissimmee, Florida. So federal agents got a search warrant requiring Google to identify “users who had searched the address of the Residence close in time to the arson,” according to a newly unsealed search warrant affidavit

— Robert Snell (@robertsnellnews) October 6, 2020

Williams’ lawyer, Todd Spodek, intends to challenge the warrant for allegedly violating his client’s rights. Search warrants are normally targeted at a narrow group of likely suspects — this was aimed at anyone looking for certain terms. It could be “misconstrued or used improperly,” Spodek said.

Experts are concerned that “reverse” warrants, including geofence warrants that target everyone in a given area, violate Fourth Amendment rights protecting against overly broad searches. A federal judge in Illinois has already ruled that the approach violates the Fourth Amendment, while New York politicians have proposed a bill banning the practice.

We’ve asked Google for comment, although it declined to tell CNET how many keyword-related warrants it received since 2017, when Minnesota police asked for user data linked to searches in a fraud case. However many it has received, this puts further scrutiny on both police data gathering methods and the willingness of tech companies to comply. If there was a constitutional violation, Google might not have needed to honor the request in the first place.