Court Docs Reveal that Google Shares Data on Keyword Searches with Police

Leon Neal/Getty Images
Leon Neal/Getty Images

Recently released court documents reveal that Google is sharing data on search keywords with police departments. According to the documents, police departments are able to obtain data from Google on every individual who has searched for a specific keyword. If the allegations are true, police departments are using IP addresses provided by Google to connect users to specific crimes. However, privacy experts believe the practice violates the Fourth Amendment.

According to a report by CNET, Google is sharing data on search keywords with police departments around the country. Recently published court documents suggest that Google is handing over the identity of all users that have searched a specific keyword that may be relevant to a police investigation.

The report claims that police in Florida used Google’s keyword search data to link Michael Williams to the burning of a vehicle. Investigators asked Google to provide them with a list of every user that had searched for the victim’s address around the time of the arson.

Privacy experts are concerned that recent trends suggest that police departments can obtain evidence without a proper warrant. Instead of asking Google for data on a specific user, police departments may be able to obtain the IP addresses of the hundreds of users that have searched for a specific keyword.

Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, argues that Google’s practice of sharing data with the police could be unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

“When a court authorizes a data dump of every person who searched for a specific term or address, it’s likely unconstitutional,” Cahn said.

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said that “keyword warrants” make up less than one percent of the total warrants issued by the courts for Google data.

“We require a warrant and push to narrow the scope of these particular demands when overly broad, including by objecting in court when appropriate,” the spokesperson said. “These data demands represent less than 1% of total warrants and a small fraction of the overall legal demands for user data that we currently receive.”

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