Police are casting a wide net into the deep pool of Google user location data to solve cri...

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Raleigh, N.C., detectives have obtained warrants to search a wide variety of Google account data, and not necessarily only of suspects -- a practice that has raised the ire of privacy advocates.




According to reporting by local news station WRAL, police in Raleigh have been using an innovative strategy. While investigating various crimes, the police received a warrant for Google account identifiers on every cell phone that was in the vicinity of the crime scene during certain times, well before and well after the suspected time of the crime.

The public records obtained by WRAL show that the Raleigh Police Department has used this technique in at least four cases in the last year, with at least 19 search warrants for Google data since 2015. However, the casting of a wider net, to seek every account in the vicinity, is a new tactic as of two homicide cases last year, as well as an arson investigation involving a major downtown fire and a sexual battery investigation.

Only one of the four cases that sought Google geofencing data has resulted in an arrest, although the data that the police requested wasn't received until months after the fact.

It's unclear why the police sought accounts from Google. Wireless carriers have the same data, and has been something that law enforcement has been known to subpoena -- or be outright given without a court order -- for quite some time.

The ACLU, and other privacy advocates, have expressed concern about the practice, raising many of the issues about government and privacy that have been at the forefront since the original Edward Snowden disclosures, which dealt with the role of Apple and other technology companies in data-gathering by the government.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,637member
    This will be just data overload for the police. Unless they have methods on how to scrub the data and find what they are looking for it just going to be too much information for them to figure something out. Once the pin point someone then they could use the data to know if there were there and were other involved. Beyond this it will be simple information overload.
  • Reply 2 of 10
    if the data is presented as unidentifiable at first then they can request warrant for personal info to pursue a case then I see no major problems. i.e.

    crime occurred at 12:02,
    19 of 1846 nearby users pinged at specific crime location between 12:00 and 12:05. 
    further location data requested on the 19 users.
    3 of 19 users match location and time data for suspect sightings / cctv footage.
    warrant issued for 3x users personal info
    1 of 3 users identified as known threat / have previous / match cctv/eyewitness description - cops dispatched to last known location.

    I assume they're just handed ALL the info at once, on everyone nearby regardless however.
  • Reply 3 of 10
    maestro64 said:
    This will be just data overload for the police. Unless they have methods on how to scrub the data and find what they are looking for it just going to be too much information for them to figure something out. Once the pin point someone then they could use the data to know if there were there and were other involved. Beyond this it will be simple information overload.
    You obviously don't watch those TV documentaries, NCIS Los Angeles, Scorpion, or Wisdom of the Crowd (to name just 3).  Police forces are doing incredible things to harness data to solve crimes in hours and days (if not minutes), often using highly sophisticated private consultants (who appear to work at very affordable rates).  
  • Reply 4 of 10
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 362member
    randominternetperson said: You obviously don't watch those TV documentaries, NCIS Los Angeles, Scorpion, or Wisdom of the Crowd (to name just 3).  Police forces are doing incredible things to harness data to solve crimes in hours and days (if not minutes), often using highly sophisticated private consultants (who appear to work at very affordable rates).  
    Heh! There should be a followup to NCIS where so much of evidence X gets thrown out because it was gained by hacking cell networks and pinging the GPS on phones without a warrant.

    Not to mention two people on one keyboard fighting off a hacker. So much Foley!
  • Reply 5 of 10
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,637member
    maestro64 said:
    This will be just data overload for the police. Unless they have methods on how to scrub the data and find what they are looking for it just going to be too much information for them to figure something out. Once the pin point someone then they could use the data to know if there were there and were other involved. Beyond this it will be simple information overload.
    You obviously don't watch those TV documentaries, NCIS Los Angeles, Scorpion, or Wisdom of the Crowd (to name just 3).  Police forces are doing incredible things to harness data to solve crimes in hours and days (if not minutes), often using highly sophisticated private consultants (who appear to work at very affordable rates).  
    It is like TV news, can no longer believe a thing to see and hear on TV anymore.
  • Reply 6 of 10
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,674member
    I don't really see an issue with this.  If people use any geo-services like Maps, Waze, etc... you're already using public-sourced information to determine everything around you.  Law enforcement using this tool to narrow down folks within an area of interest is fine, so long as it is not immediately identifiable information.

    If the police tracks down a phone that was at a vicinity of a crime, and that phone is likely probably to have been used be the suspect, have at it.
  • Reply 7 of 10
    muncywebmuncyweb Posts: 157member
    It's unfortunate that tech advocates are so often the ones with such low levels of prudence and caution regarding what is and is not okay for the government to do.
  • Reply 8 of 10
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,300member
    I like DuckDuckGo.
    netlinglostkiwi
  • Reply 9 of 10
    netlingnetling Posts: 41member
    I like DuckDuckGo.
    I second DuckDuckGo!  The results are just as good as google most of the time and when you do use google go into Privacy mode and as for Maps on iOS, try HERE which actually has been great.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 10 of 10
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,893member
    netling said:
    I like DuckDuckGo.
    I second DuckDuckGo!  The results are just as good as google most of the time and when you do use google go into Privacy mode and as for Maps on iOS, try HERE which actually has been great.
    Why would Here be any different than Google Maps?
    https://legal.here.com/en-gb/privacy/here-application-and-here-maps-privacy-supplement

    BTW for anyone concerned about Google Maps location history it's not a bad idea to go into your account settings and delete some or all of it on a regular basis. I tend to do so every month or so. Sometimes longer if I forget. Now that I've been reminded....

    I would guess there's some way to do that with Here or TomTom or other mapping services as well. 
    edited March 2018
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