This insane search warrant illustrates a new era of surveillance

This insane search warrant illustrates a new era of surveillance


In a small town just outside of Minneapolis, a judge granted police a court order demanding that Google hand over the identity of anyone who searched for the name of a financial fraud victim.

The warrant granted to the Edina Police Department to solve a wire-fraud crime worth less than $30,000 is likely to be one of the broadest and most Orwellian attempts by a smaller law enforcement agency to demand internet user information, according to ArsTechnica.

From the tech website:

Investigators are focusing their probe on an online photo of someone with the same name of a local financial fraud victim. The image turned up on a fake passport used to trick a credit union to fraudulently transfer $28,500 out of an Edina man’s account, police said. The bogus passport was faxed to the credit union using a spoofed phone number to mimic the victim’s phone, according to the warrant application. (To protect the victim’s privacy, Ars is not publishing his name that was listed throughout the warrant signed February 1 by Hennepin County Senior Judge Gary Larson.)

The warrant demands Google to help police determine who searched for variations of the victim’s name between December 1 of last year through January 7, 2017. A Google search, the warrant application says, reveals the photo used on the bogus passport. The image was not rendered on Yahoo or Bing, according to the documents. The warrant commands Google to divulge “any/all user or subscriber information”—including e-mail addresses, payment information, MAC addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, and IP addresses—of anybody who conducted a search for the victim’s name.

The obvious problem here is that, if Google is forced to comply with the warrant, it could potentially yield all sorts of information about innocent Americans who have nothing to do with the case in question.

As Privacy News Online noted: “While the search terms are fairly specific – the fraud victim’s name – it’s also guaranteed to catch any person who considered dating them, employing them, and so on, at a bare minimum.”

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