Google has been served with a search warrant by a Minnesota judge that requires the firm to hand over personally identifiable information on anyone from one town who has searched for a particular name.
The warrant, published by public records researcher Tony Webster, requires Google to provide a wealth of information on any internet user in the town of Edina who was found to have searched for one of four variations of a fraud victim’s name.
The rationale for the records request is to do with the specifics of the fraud case: the perpetrator attempted to initiate a $28,500 wire transfer from the victim’s account, using a fake passport as ID. That passport, according to police, was illustrated with a picture of someone with the same name as the victim.
A Google image search of the victim’s name brings up that same image, the warrant says, while comparable searches using Bing and Yahoo do not. That led the police to conclude that the perpetrator likely carried out the same search, in order to find the photo in the first place.
The warrant, which was approved by Judge Gary Larson in early February, calls on Google to hand over data on all searches for the victims name that took place between 1 December 2016 and 7 January 2017. That data includes names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, IP addresses and account information of all the people who carried out the search, according to the warrant.
Whether the warrant is legally sound is a matter of some contention. Webster argues that “search warrants require supporting probable cause, not just mere suspicion or theory.
“For that reason, ‘anyone-who-accessed’ search warrants… can be risky to execute, as evidence could potentially be thrown out in a pretrial motion,” he adds. “Moreover, it’s possible that such a wide net could catch completely routine and non-criminal searches of the victim’s name by neighbours, prospective employers or business associates, journalists, or friends.”
Andrew Crocker, an attorney at the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, joked that the case should be renamed: “Case name should be In re Minnesota Unconstitutional General Warrant.”
A Google spokesperson told Forbes that “We aren’t able to comment on specific cases, but we will always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.”
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