Google Dragnets collected phone data on 13 arson attacks in Kenosha

After the Kenosha riots in 2020, federal investigators asked Google to provide data on all phones located at at least 13 arson sites, court documents have revealed.

Such commands, also known as Google’s “geofence” or “reverse location” warrants, require the tech giant to provide information about devices using its location-based services (whether this either Google Maps or another application) within a certain limit over a given period. Basic information is provided to the police on the devices, such as anonymous phone IDs and locations at the time of an event, but the police then ask Google to provide the names and addresses of users they consider to be wrongdoers. viable suspects.

Kenosha’s warrant applications were all filed last year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which investigated various fires caused by rioters, protesting the police shooting at the citizen. black Jacob Blake, who was seriously injured. which left him partially paralyzed. Although it’s been a year since the protests, Google’s orders have only just been unsealed. Forbes previously reported six other warrants that covered a library, dinosaur museum, CVS store, gas station and hotel. The latter cover a Kenosha courthouse, a garbage truck site, a mattress store, an office furniture store, a bank, and two car dealerships.

Together, the warrants reveal that the Google dragnets ordered across Kenosha in the days following the protests were much larger than previously thought. They also indicate that Google’s geofences against the Kenosha riot had the potential to collect data on innocent people, which information was then provided to the US government. In the warrants, it is evident that citizens not involved in the arson were in the vicinity of the crime scenes. Footage from the mattress store fire, for example, shows a large gathering of people around the store, as well as many passing cars. The courthouse fire was filmed by someone using Facebook Live, footage investigators used, according to the corresponding search warrant request. As Forbes Previously reported, some of the museum arsonists attempted to deter the arsonists and one individual extinguished the blaze. Jennifer Lynch, lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), tweeted that hundreds of legitimate protesters likely had their Google phone data turned over to federal investigators as a result of Kenosha’s investigations.

Such warrants have proved controversial in recent years, after the wrong man was arrested in a murder investigation and in one case Google returned data on more than 1,000 user phones for a single request. The EFF calls for the prohibition of such mandates and called on Google to fight them earlier this month. “It is high time for Google to defend the privacy of its users and to resist these illegal mandates,” the association wrote.

Google recently revealed that these geographic fencing orders have increased by the thousands in recent years, claiming to have received 982 in 2018, 8,396 in 2019 and 11,554 in 2020. In response to previously reported Kenosha riot warrants, a Google spokesperson said, “We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of the police. We have developed a process specifically for these requests that is designed to meet our legal obligations while reducing the scope of the data disclosed. The company had not responded to requests for further comment on the newly unsealed documents.

Forbes made all Google geofence commands available on DocumentCloud here.

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