Explosive growth of geofencing threatens U.S. privacy


Police around The country has greatly increased their use Geofence warrantThe new data shared by Google shows that this is a widely criticized survey technique that collects data on any user in a specific area within a specific time frame. Since 2016, law enforcement has been providing geofencing orders to Google, but for the first time the company detailed the exact number it received.

The report shows that the request rapidly increase In the past three years, it has risen tenfold in some states. In California alone, law enforcement made 1,909 requests last year, compared with 209 in 2018. Similarly, the geofencing order in Florida jumped from 81 requests in 2018 to more than 800 last year. In Ohio, the number of requests increased from 7 to 400 in the same time period.

In all 50 states, geofencing requests to Google increased from 941 in 2018 to 11,033 in 2020, and now account for more than 25% of all data requests the company receives from law enforcement.

A single geofence request may contain data from hundreds of bystanders. In 2019, single warrant association Arson This resulted in nearly 1,500 device identifiers being sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.Dozens of civil liberties groups and privacy advocates Call for ban This technology is believed to violate the protection of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches, especially the searches of protesters. Now, Google’s transparency report reveals the scale of the same violations that people across the country may face.

“There will always be collateral damage,” said Jack Laperuk, a senior policy adviser for the non-profit government oversight program constitution project. Due to its inherent wide range, geofencing orders can allow the police to access location data of people unrelated to criminal activities.

Google said in a statement to WIRED: “While supporting the important work of law enforcement, we vigorously protect the privacy of users. We have developed a process specifically for these requests to fulfill our legal obligations while reducing the scope of data. Disclosure.”

Just this week, Forbes revealed Google authorized police In August last year, during a protest following the murder of George Floyd, Kenosha, Wisconsin, accessed user data of bystanders who caught fire near libraries and museums. Google handed over “GPS coordinates and data, device data, device ID” and time stamps to anyone in the library within two hours; in the museum, 25 minutes.Similarly, the Minneapolis police demanded that Google User data comes from Two days after the protest began, a suspected burglary occurred in an AutoZone store last year, anyone “in the geographic area”.

Laperruque believes that the geo-fencing order may have a “chilling effect” because people give up the right to protest because they are afraid of becoming surveillance targets.Just this week, Kenosha The legislator debated a bill This will make participating in the “riot” a felony. Critics point out that such a bill may punish anyone who participates in peaceful demonstrations and becomes violent because of the actions of others. Similarly, geofencing data can be used not only by loosely connecting with other people in the crowd, but also by simply being there as evidence of a crime.

Geofencing warrants work differently from typical search warrants. Usually, the police officer identifies the suspect or person of interest, and then obtains a search warrant from the judge to search the person’s home or property.

With a geofencing order, the police start from the time and place where the suspicious crime occurred, and then request data from Google for the equipment around the location at the time, usually within one to two hours. If Google complies, it will provide a list of anonymous data about devices in the area: GPS coordinates, their timestamps in the area, and an anonymous identifier called a reverse location obfuscation identifier or RLOI.


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