Privacy Law

Defendant challenges 'classic dragnet search' for Google cellphone data within robbery radius

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A bank robbery defendant who was arrested based on Google location data is seeking to suppress the evidence under a challenge to the broad warrant that authorized the disclosure.

Okello Chatrie, 24, says the “geofence” warrant required Google to turn over information about users who happened to be in the vicinity of the Midlothian, Virginia, robbery May 20. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has coverage.

The geofence warrant “is an unlawful and unconstitutional general warrant that is both overbroad and lacks the particularity required by the Fourth Amendment,” the suppression motion asserts.

“This no ordinary warrant. It is a general warrant purporting to authorize a classic dragnet search of every Google user who happened to be near a bank in suburban Richmond during rush hour on a Monday evening.”

Federal prosecutors counter that Chatrie voluntarily disclosed his location information to Google, and disclosure to the government did not infringe on his reasonable expectation of privacy.

Chatrie was indicted Sept. 17 on charges of using a firearm during a crime of violence and “forced accompaniment during armed credit union robbery.”

He is accused of stealing $195,000 from the Call Federal Credit Union after threatening a teller’s family, waving a gun in the air, ordering customers and employees onto the floor, and then ordering employees at gunpoint to get on their knees.

The geofence data was provided in a three-step process, the Richmond Times-Dispatch explains. First, Google disclosed location information for cellphones in the area during the hour of the robbery, but the company did not disclose user information. The first step disclosed location information for 19 anonymized Google users.

Second, police reviewed the information looking for accounts with location data consistent with the robber’s movements. Police then asked Google for additional information for travel outside the geofence for a subset of nine users.

Third, police asked and received information identifying the users of three accounts that were of interest.

Google lawyers told the court in a brief that the number of law enforcement requests for geofence data from the company increased 1,500% from 2017 to 2018 and increased 500% from 2018 until last month.

See also: “FBI asks Google to turn over data on all users who were close to robbery locations”

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