Edina Police Search Warrant Prompts Digital Privacy Concerns

Minnesota judge approves 'unusual' Google dragnet warrant

In an unprecedented request, local police in Minnesota have acquired a warrant that compels Google to surrender information on every person who used its service to search for a particular name. What would have seemed ludicrous at the time is now feasible, and one judge believes Google should turn over the personal information for anyone who used the search engine to look up a victim's name.

Police in Edina, Minnesota, have been granted court order requiring that Google hands over the identities of all those searching for the name of a local victim of fraud.

This has led the Edina Police to draft the warrant which the judge has signed and approved. This includes the user's name, address, telephone number, birth date, payment information, and IP addresses. For instance, it applies to only users located in Edina, which has a population of about 50,000 and looks only at queries made between last December and January 7.

The Edina Police Department declined to comment other than to tell Webster that the agency would be "reluctant to disclose active case information or specific strategies used during the investigation".

"This kind of warrant is cause for concern because it's closer to these dragnet searches that the Fourth Amendment is created to prevent", William McGeveran, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, tells the Star Tribune, noting that if standards to obtain such a broad warrant aren't strong, it could become problematic in the future. Authorities say that when they Googled the victim's name the photo appeared in results. The victim's first name is Douglas with the last name redacted in the scanned warrant available on Tony Webster's blog and Webster poses an interesting question in his post.

USA authorities regularly do subpoena internet companies such as Google for information relating to criminal investigations. For that reason, "anyone-who-accessed" search warrants like Detective Lindman's can be risky to execute, as evidence could potentially be thrown out in a pretrial motion. Law experts are anxious about the constitutionality of the warrant. "The DEA could get a search warrant on whoever emailed a marijuana dispensary".

Additionally, the schemer faxed a copy of a forged US passport with a photo that looked like the victim.

It's unclear if the internet company ever gave up the data.

Google has not spoken publicly about the case, but they did tell Ars in an email that they "will always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users".

The warrant is however limited to the "city or township of Edina, County of Hennepin, State of Minnesota" which has a population of around 50,000.

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