Law enforcement bodies are now using location data to track individuals associated with a particular time and location. The technique, known as the geofence warranting, scans information on any device which was in the vicinity of the crime, enabling the police to know who was present during a protest.
Through geofence warrants, police can obtain information from companies like Google and collect data on individuals who were present in the area, including the innocent ones. While it’s not clear whether the police are applying this technique in the current protests, cops have successfully used geofence warrants in murder investigations and crimes like bank robberies.
However, using location data may not always give accurate results, as it can lead to false positives. For instance, an innocent person passing by the given street will be among the individuals identified in the crime scene even though they weren’t involved in any way.
On the other hand, hundreds of protesters have been arrested throughout the country following demonstrations sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The 46-year-old died in the custody of police after officers in Minneapolis pinned him down. Owing to violent protests across the country, the Drug Enforcement Agency was permitted to conduct surveillance on demonstrators, and geofence warrants are part of this.
The police can obtain information on every individual who took part in the protests at a single request with geofence warrants. Owing to Google’s location history feature, the company has been getting a majority of these requests. However, Google says it protects the privacy of its users, so it only provides data that needs to be opt-in from this feature.
“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement. We developed a process specifically for these requests that is designed to honor our legal obligations while narrowing the scope of data disclosed,” Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, said in a statement.
In addition to this, Google only complies with requests with a warrant and dispute those without. Even so, Google didn’t mention whether it will conform to geofence warrants associated with protests. In case it does, the privacy of individual protesters will be at stake, and people like Mark Rumold are against the idea.
“I hope that Google would not comply with a reverse location warrant associated with an investigation of a protest,” a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Rumold said. “If nothing else for the fact that it is bound to disclose so much information about so many people engaged in a First Amendment activity.”
Nevertheless, the police have several tools to conduct surveillance on demonstrators. As a result, several guides have been crafted on how one can maintain their privacy during protests. The cops have used similar techniques in the past to track protesters, so there are high chances they can still catch up with individuals taking part in such kind of demonstrations. Luckily, there are several ways to shield your identity from these data-tracking warrants. So you can always stay away from police surveillance.