Raleigh cops are investigating crime by getting Google to reveal the identity of every mobile user within acres of the scene

Public records requests have revealed that on at least four occasions, the Raleigh-Durham police obtained warrants forcing Google to reveal the identities of every mobile user within acres of a crime scene, sweeping up the personal information of thousands of people in a quest to locate a single perp.

The warrants came with gag orders that banned Google from disclosing their existence; in their requests for the warrants, local prosecutors say that they don't even believe that warrants are needed to get this information, but since Google insists, they're willing to get them.

The cops insist that this approach balances the public's Fourth Amendment rights with their need to fight crimes. Only one of the crimes in which police used this dragnet technique has had an arrest; it's not clear if this arrest was the result of data from Google.

The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses. In the Efobi homicide case, the cordon included dozens of units in the Washington Terrace complex near St. Augustine's University.

The account IDs aren't limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan.

"At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people," Wessler said. "Location information is really revealing and private about people's habits and activities and what they're doing."

To find suspects, police quietly turn to Google [Tyler Dukes/WRAL]

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