Geofencing And Keyword Logging; The New Warrants

Geofencing and keyword searches

Privacy experts are now contesting law enforcement’s two newest tools- geofencing and keyword logging. These technologies are used, respectively, to track activity within a specific geographical area (from a single home to a large neighborhood) and, to monitor specific keyword input. Combined, these two activities provide law enforcement with access to the location and personal written communication of millions of innocent people.

Lawyers and privacy experts contend that geofence and keyword logging warrants are akin to a general warrant, which is illegal under the Fourth Amendment protection of the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. These new warrant tools don’t have a specific person in mind, they simply target groups of unnamed people. Where is the probable cause against specific suspects in such random warrants?

Keyword logging warrants are potentially more far-reaching than geofence warrants because keyword search warrants are not necessarily geographically or otherwise tangibly tied to a specific crime and could make suspects out of innocent people around the nation and the world.

It’s not just the large tech companies such as Google and Facebook who are providing this personal information to law enforcement, many other smaller data providers and even apps (such as fitness app, FitBit) are fulfilling these geofence and keyword search warrants.

There’s also always the very real concern that this information will be used under pretext to target private citizens or causes. Companies like Hawk Analytics are hosting seminars, training people in the private sector as well as law enforcement on how to put together these type warrants. But no one is monitoring the use of this information. There is current legislation wending its way through Congress to protect general personal information, there is no legislative effort addressing geofencing.

A case on record now clearly illustrates the danger of unregulated geofencing warrants wherein an innocent bicyclist had to hire an attorney to clear himself as the prime suspect in a burglary case- simply for riding by the burglared house- along a route he took often while biking. Read here.

Very concerning to lawyers should be the worry that in researching cases, general keyword search warrants may be in place for anyone and everyone’s IP addresses and communication should they use certain phrases. Real case example.

We’ll update our readers on congressional action on these warrants as developments occur.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

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