DETECTED: Google releases users' personal information to the police when they search for keywords related to an investigation.
- CNET reports that police are issuing "keyboard shortcuts" to Google forcing them to provide the IP addresses of all users who have searched for a particular word
- A "keyboard shortcut" recently resulted in the arrest of a suspect who set fire to a car owned by a woman alleged to have sexually assaulted R. Kelly
- This suspect's attorney says he now plans to question the legality of this "keyboard shortcut".
- Experts say they could violate the privacy of innocent internet users. You could be violating Americans' rights after the fourth amendment
Unsealed court documents indicate that Google provided the police with information about users based solely on their keyword searches – an action that some say may violate US civil rights.
According to a CNET report released on Saturday, officials asked the tech giant to hand over the IP addresses of anyone who looked up words relevant to their respective investigations.
Ordinarily, the police would have to investigate a single suspect before issuing a warrant to Google asking them to provide that person's search history – but "keyword arrest warrants" undermine such a practice.
Unsealed court documents indicate that Google provided the police with information about users based on just their keyword searches – an action that some say may violate US civil rights
Earlier this year, Florida police opened an investigation after a woman accused of sexual assault, singer R. Kelly, set her car on fire outside her home.
CNET reports that investigators "sent a search warrant to Google asking for information on users who searched the home address in good time prior to the arson".
Michael Williams – a relative of a former R. Kelly publicist – was arrested after a "keyboard command".
Google then gave "the IP addresses of the people who searched for the address of the arson victim".
This eventually led to the police arresting a suspect named Michael Williams – a relative of a former R. Kelly publicist.
While the police cite this particular case as evidence that "keyboard commands" are effective, others fear that innocent people could be caught in the crossfire.
"This 'keyword warrant' is beyond the control of the police for surveillance by the fourth amendment," Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told CNET.
"If a court approves a data dump of anyone who searched for a particular term or address, it is likely to be unconstitutional."
Williams attorney Todd Spodek says he now plans to question the legality of the "keyboard shortcut".
"Think about the future impact if anyone looking for something in the privacy of their own home was subjected to federal agent interviews," he told CNET.
"Someone might be interested in how people die a certain way, or how drug deals are made, and it could be misinterpreted or used inappropriately."
Keyboard warrants are similar in style to geofence warrants, where the police ask Google to "provide data on all devices that are logged into a specific area and at a specific time."
"If a court approves a data dump of every person who has searched for a certain term or a certain address, it is probably unconstitutional": Experts sound the alarm about "keyboard commands".
According to CNET, the number of geofence warrants served to Google in the past three years alone has increased 20-fold.
In the release, Google was asked to indicate how many "keyboard and geofence guarantees" it had received from investigators since 2017. The answer was not published.
Instead, the company released a statement attempting to balance users' privacy with their legal obligations to the police.
"We need an arrest warrant and we try to limit the scope of these particular requests if they are too broad, even if we object to the courts," said Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and information security at Google.
"These data requirements make up less than 1 percent of the total warrants and a small fraction of the total legal user data requirements we are currently receiving."
Google says they are trying to balance users' privacy with their legal obligations to the police