Efforts to track down criminals in the US state of North Carolina have laid bare a dangerous gap in the law over the use of location data.
Raleigh police went to court at least three times last year and got a warrant requiring Google to share the details of any users that were close to crime scenes during specific times and dates.
The first crime was the murder of a cab driver in November 2016, the second an arson attack in March 2017 and the third, sexual battery, in August 2017 – suggesting that the police force is using the approach to discover potentially incriminating evidence for increasingly less serious crimes.
In each case, the cops used GPS coordinates to draw a rough rectangle around the areas of interest – covering nearly 20 acres in the murder case – and asked for the details of any users that entered those areas in time periods of between 60 to 90 minutes e.g. between 1800 and 1930.
The warrants were granted by a judge complete with an order to prevent disclosure so Google was legally prevented from informing impacted users that their details had been shared with law enforcement. Google complied with the warrants.
It is worth noting that the data haul is not limited to users of Google hardware i.e. phones running Android but also any phone that ran Google apps – which encompasses everything from its driving app service to its calendar, browser, predictive keyboard and so on.
Over investigation seems like a real breach of privacy to me. That Google collects this information in a fashion that it can be easily supplied is a real shocker.