Minnesota police seek data on who Googled a victim's name

Issued by Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson in early February, the warrant looks at anyone who searched variations of the resident's name on Google from December 1 through January 7. Of course, the bank needed to verify the man's identity so he faxed in a copy of his passport which turns out, was fake. In addition to basic contact information for people targeted by the warrant, Google is being asked to provide Edina police with their Social Security numbers, account and payment information, and IP (internet protocol) and MAC (media access control) addresses.

This has led the Edina Police to draft the warrant which the judge has signed and approved.

"The Fourth Amendment was adopted in large part in reaction to "general warrants" or "writs of assistance" which allowed British agents to go house to house in search of contraband", Andrew Crocker, a digital rights attorney with Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Vocativ.

Police did a Google image search for the real bank account owner and discovered the fake passport photo used by the fraudster, which was not of the real victim but of someone with the same name.

However, the image used for the US passport is publicly available on the internet through a Google search, but not on Yahoo or Bing, according to the warrant application.

He's particularly concerned that the warrant amounts to a "fishing expedition" that exposes the whole town to an unlawful search. According to court documents, Lindman served it about 20 minutes later. But now the police are getting in on the action.

Under a probable cause standard, no way.

Rob Kahn, a privacy law professor at the University of St. Thomas, was even more critical, saying the warrant could be used to collect information on internet users who searched the name for other reasons.

In a statement on Friday, Google said it would continue to object to the police's request, potentially igniting another showdown reminiscent of Apple's fight with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Amazon's objection to a similar warrant in an Arkansas murder case. But according to the warrant, investigators believe the Google data will help them identify the criminal suspect.

People might say things like this are a hard blow on their privacy, and it is. The search giant has already rejected an administrative subpoena from the court.

"There's really very little to connect the fact that there's a photo attainable on Google with the identity theft", she said. Google didn't comment on the specific case but a spokesperson told The Reg that they won't entertain any "excessively broad requests" for their users' data.

  • Arturo Norris