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The suspects in an Eden Prairie home invasion last October wore gloves, dressed in black, and covered their faces with masks. But despite their efforts to remain unseen, a trail of evidence was left behind — not at the crime scene, but with Google.
Knowing the Silicon Valley giant held a trove of consumer mobile phone location data, investigators got a Hennepin County judge to sign a "reverse location" search warrant ordering Google to identify the locations of cellphones that had been near the crime scene in Eden Prairie, and near two food markets the victims owned in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The scope of the warrant was so expansive in time and geography that it had the potential to gather data on tens of thousands of Minnesotans.
A reverse location search warrant differs from a traditional search warrant in that it doesn't identify a suspect and establish probable cause to ask for evidence of a suspect's crimes. Instead, it asks for information about everyone in an area at a certain time, working backwards to identify a suspect.
Police said privacy would be preserved through a two-step process where Google would first anonymously assign an identification number linked with each device's serial number when turning over the records. If a device's location, movement, or timing established probable cause, investigators could go back to court and get a second warrant ordering Google to reveal the name of the cellphone's owner.
These kind of searches raise serious concerns about overbreadth, and affect the privacy rights of lots of people who live or work nearby," said Wessler.
Investigators reviewed the Google data and found a mobile device that appeared to be in the rear of the victims' home. The data showed the device then moved to locations "generally between 13-20 meters," roughly 42 to 65 feet, from the victims' Wi-Fi hotspot, before disappearing from the map as the 911 call came in. A judge then ordered Google to identify the device's owner, and provide a bigger data capture of the person's movements.
But by that point, police had already developed suspects without Google's help, based on vehicle descriptions and a confidential informant, they said in court filings. Three weeks after serving the second search warrant on Google, they arrested three suspects, who now face federal charges.
Google locations and their accuracies should not be used in a definite way," read a study from a team of forensic data scientists last year. The research found that while Google's data could usually place someone in the general whereabouts of an area, some conditions resulted in Google overestimating its accuracy 93 percent of the time
originally posted by: MisterSpock
This is all just peachy for the police and governments. They must love having this kind of data at their disposal....for now.
Wonder how they will feel when the big monopolies don't want to provide evidence to them.