If You’ve Typed This Into Google, The Government Is Probably Spying On You

Leaked documents just revealed what many already suspected, the U.S. government issues secret warrants to Google demanding user information on those who search for certain terms, raising and justifying fears that innocent internet users might get caught in the middle of serious crime investigations.

Federal investigators have started to use this new, secretive type of “keyword warrant” in order to track down criminals, and Google is helping them by providing user data for searches related to the address or name of a crime’s victims. The information was revealed when Forbes got hold of a packet of accidentally unsealed court files.

Google responds to several thousand warrant orders every year, but the new keyword warrants are a more recent strategy and it’s clandestine, pseudo-legal nature is raising major controversy already.

Jennifer Granick, a cybersecurity and surveillance counsellor for the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the tactic because it labels individuals based on their search term alone, when it might have been something on their mind for any reason at any point in the past. Just because a person entered a search query is not enough evidence that they were connected with that query in a meaningful way.

Granick said that the technique was a threat to the First Amendment and warned that it will doubtlessly catch up innocent people in the crossfire of serious criminal investigations, particularly when the keyword search warrants are broad in scope and timeframe. Granick added that the fact that police agencies are using this technology in the dark worsens the problem, because their behavior is not subject to regulation and public debate.

Government officials claim that the warrants’ scope is limited enough to avoid implicating the innocent, but they did not disclose just how many users’ information was gathered by the government each year and how many warrant requests went out.

Google defended their current policy of responding to warrants, and claimed that they employ a process which both gives law enforcement information they need while protecting user privacy.

And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in the desert to sell you.

Author: Robin Conner