“Keyword Warrants”– Feds Working With Google To Track Search History

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“Keyword Warrants”– Feds Have Been Working With Google To Track Users’ Search History

A mistakenly unsealed court file disclosed that the federal government secretly ordered Google to offer up data on individuals looking for particular keywords or phrases. These are also known as “keyword warrants,” according to Forbes.

According to the record, the Justice Department inadvertently unsealed the files in September. They were promptly re-sealed, but not before they were examined by Forbes. On several occasions, detectives asked Google to identify anyone looking for certain search phrases.

The first time they used this technique was in 2019, when federal detectives were hunting for sex-traffickers. According to a search warrant, a child went missing but a year later he reappeared, claiming to have been kidnapped and sexually assaulted.” Investigators asked Google if anyone had browsed the child’s name. The tech company provided investigators with Google account IDs as well as IP addresses of the computers that made the searches.

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There have been other examples of keyword warrants being used. For example, in 2020, when authorities asked Google if any person looked up an arson victim in the federal government’s racketeering case versus performing artist R Kelly. Also in 2017, a judge in Minnesota ordered Google to provide details on anybody that searched for a scam victims’s name.

Forbes then added this post-publication update:

After publication, Jennifer Lynch, surveillance litigation director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), highlighted three other Google keyword warrants that were used in the investigation into serial Austin bombings in 2018, which resulted in the deaths of two people.

Not widely discussed at the time, the orders appear even broader than the one above, asking for IP addresses and Google account information of individuals who searched for various addresses and some terms associated with bomb making, such as “low explosives” and “pipe bomb.” Similar orders were served on Microsoft and Yahoo for their respective search engines.

As for what data the tech companies gave to investigators, that information remains under seal.

You can read the orders on Google herehere and here. The Microsoft and Yahoo orders can be found here and here.

Yearly, Google responds to countless warrant orders, yet the recent trend of  granting keyword warrants is an entirely brand-new approach by federal judges and, understandably, is becoming progressively controversial.

“”Trawling through Google’s search history database enables police to identify people merely based on what they might have been thinking about, for whatever reason, at some point in the past,” Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Forbes. “This never-before-possible technique threatens First Amendment interests and will inevitably sweep up innocent people, especially if the keyword terms are not unique and the time frame not precise. To make matters worse, police are currently doing this in secret, which insulates the practice from public debate and regulation,” she added.””

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Google responded to information regarding secret keyword warrants and stood by its choice:

“As with all law enforcement requests, we have a rigorous process that is designed to protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” a Google spokesperson stated.

Court records evaluated by Forbes revealed Google has actually handed out data on individuals that searched for certain keywords, which is a lot more proof the US is transforming into a tyrannical state of surveillance and tracking of internet use much like China’s.


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