Police Cast New Dragnets Using Google Data – Possibly Yours
If you’ve watched any true-crime show at any time in the last decade, you should have noticed how often law enforcement officials turn to cellular phone triangulation to place a suspect near the scene of a crime. By now, it’s common knowledge that authorities can determine almost anyone’s position to within a few miles using data obtained from cell phone towers (often without needing to obtain a warrant).
Most people don’t care that authorities have this ability because they don’t expect to be accused of a crime in the first place. They reasonably assume that law enforcement wouldn’t have reason to track them, so they accept the lack of privacy as another price to pay for modern convenience. Their assumption may not be correct anymore, though.
It was recently revealed that at some point last year, police in Raleigh, North Carolina started using a new tactic to solve some outstanding cases. In these instances, they hadn’t even been able to identify a suspect, so they couldn’t use triangulation to confirm anyone’s location. Instead, they turned to Google to find out information about everyone that had been in the vicinity of the crime scenes.
Why Google, you ask? It’s because the tech giant has access to user data on a scale that few others can match. In essence, if you have a smartphone with any type of Google service or app installed, they know exactly where you are and possibly what you are doing almost all of the time. The reason this is significant is that it means that courts are now approving warrants that allow police to track the activity of individuals who not only aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing but also without naming any specific person as the subject of the search.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that there’s little that users can do to prevent being tracked. It turns out that Google’s platform can track smartphone user locations even when GPS is off by utilizing cellular and WiFi signal data. There had even been reports in the past that Google was tracking phones that had all location, Wifi, and cellular services turned off – even on phones that didn’t even have a SIM card inserted.
At this point, there’s no telling how widespread this practice has become, and there’s also no clear way to find out if you’ve been targeted during an investigation. There is a case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court that may soon codify warrant requirements for cellular phone tracking data, but depending on the result, it could instead open the floodgates for even more intrusive surveillance techniques going forward. The main takeaway right now is that if you own a smartphone and desire privacy, either leave it at home or power it off, because big brother may be watching.
- To find suspects, police quietly turn to Google – WRAL.com
- Google collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled – Quartz
- Can Police Track You Through Your Cellphone Without A Warrant? – NPR
- Looking to upgrade your old phone? Trade in your existing phone for top dollar today – iGotOffer
Raleigh police ask Google for user data, raising concerns of privacy violations [Video]
Video uploaded by Fox Business on March 20, 2018