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The problems with geofence warrants

On Behalf of | Nov 13, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Geofence warrants are commonly used when the police want to know who was in a given location when a crime was committed. Nebraska law enforcement authorities obtain this information by issuing a geofence warrant to a company such as Google to find out who used devices in the area of the crime, whether it was a smartphone or anything else connected to the internet. This may be important to know if you have a smart phone.

How do the police obtain this information?

Once someone has used one of Google’s plethora of services, the company collects data from them on an implicit and explicit basis. From that, the police form a list of suspects where they otherwise would have had very little or nothing to start with.

As helpful as they potentially may be to track down wrongdoers who put the public in danger, many argue against law enforcement’s use of geofence warrants. From a legal perspective, a warrant is meant to provide the police with a specific set of information with some reasonable expectation that it will bring them closer to the criminal. This isn’t a warrant that resembles other types because it is a highly general request for people’s information who haven’t done anything worthy of being labeled as potential suspects.

A trove of sensitive data and no questions asked

Google is at the top of the list of places where police go for information because of the likelihood that it will have what they need. It also doesn’t hurt that law enforcement is often met with little to no resistance or questioning in their pursuit of this data.

With other types of warrants, law enforcement has some idea of who may have committed the crime. They need a valid reason to request the individual’s information by searching their house or car and subjecting them to a potential criminal defense prosecution.

Even keyword warrants, another type of database-related request for information, involve some level of suspicious activity that could tie suspects to the incident. These allow police to look into the data of anyone who searched for specific keywords related to the crime. But all that a person has to do to be subjected to an invasion of privacy through a geofence warrant is be at the wrong place at the wrong time.