Police used geofence warrant to make Google to identify George Floyd protestors

Posted on Feb 8, 2021 by Caleb Chen
Police served warrant on Google to identify George Floyd protestors

In the aftermath of the George Floyd Protests, Police served Google with a geofence warrant to identify suspects in crimes committed during the protests. Minneapolis Police say that the looting and property damage started at one AutoZone in southern Minneapolis. To find out more, Police sent a warrant to Google to receive information on all Google accounts that were “within the geographical region” of the AutoZone in a twenty minute timeframe between 5:20pm and 5:40pm on May 27th, the day of the incident.

We’re only aware of the search warrant because an individual who had their information given to the police by Google, Said Abdullahi, received an email from Google letting him know that the information had been handed over. Abdullahi then turned this information over to TechCrunch, who were able to get their hands on the geofence warrant. This is part of Google’s transparency push which alerts users when governments have accessed account information via a warrant or if an account has been the victim of suspected state actor hacking.

In this particular reverse location search warrant, Google handed over information on hundreds of individuals. In their request, the police noted that they were really hoping to identify an individual known as “Umbrella man” who is shown on video starting the violence. Umbrella man hasn’t been charged yet, and instead we have hundreds of people who have had their privacy violated simply for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Reverse location search warrants are likely unconstitutional

A district court in Virginia has even previously found that reverse location search warrants – or geofence warrants – are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment. Abdullahi told TechCrunch:

“Police assumed everybody in that area that day is guilty. If one person did something criminal, [the police] should not go after the whole block of people.”

Some states, like New York, are trying to pass legislation that would forbid these types of geofence warrants; however, sans a binding decision or legislation at the federal level, these types of warrants will continue to be used against the populace. Google notes that the frequency of these types of warrants is increasing year after year. All of this after action privacy violation via companies like Google stacks on top of the active privacy violations that may have occurred on the ground, as well.