Internet Law

Google vows to fight search warrant seeking the names of everyone who Googled crime victim

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Benny Marty /

Google says it will fight a search warrant seeking information about anyone who searched the name of a financial crime victim on the search engine in December and early January.

Judge Gary Larson of Hennepin County, Minnesota, issued the warrant in February, report the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Ars Technica and, which was first to publicize the warrant.

Police in Edina, Minnesota, told the judge they found that a fake photo used in a phony passport was available through Google images, but not through Yahoo or Bing. The fraudster used the passport to obtain $28,500 through a line of credit with the crime victim’s credit union. The warrant application is here.

The photo on the passport wasn’t the crime victim’s image, but it was an image of someone who is similar in age. Police believe the fraudster believed the photo he or she obtained was that of the victim. The fraudster transferred the line of credit money into the victim’s savings account, and then into another account at Bank of America.

Police want the internet address for people conducting the search, as well as their Social Security numbers and account and payment information.

Police obtained the search warrant from the judge after Google objected to an administrative subpoena seeking the information.

A Google spokesperson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune it would fight the warrant. “We will continue to object to this overreaching request for user data, and if needed, will fight it in court. We always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users,” the spokesperson said.

Civil-liberties advocates and electronic-privacy experts criticized the warrant and raised questions about whether information obtained would be tossed. Among them was University of St. Thomas privacy law professor Rob Kahn. “I’m concerned both about ensnaring innocent people but also … that this become a pattern,” Kahn told the Star Tribune. “It’s certainly a scary slippery slope that they’re setting up here.” raised similar concerns, saying the information requested could reveal the names of neighbors, prospective employers, business associates, journalists or friends who searched for the name.

“Could this type of search warrant be used to wrongly ensnare innocent people?” the blog asked. “If Google were to provide personal information on anyone who Googled the victim’s name, would Edina Police raid their homes, or would they first do further investigative work? The question is: what comes next? If you bought a pressure cooker on Amazon a month before the Boston bombing, do police get to know about it?”

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