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This may be the end for geofence warrants

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2024 | Felonies |

There are situations in which the use of a geofence warrant is appropriate. This is especially true in cold cases, where law enforcement has no other way to build a suspect list. But reverse-location services, another term for this type of warrant, also left many advocates in Michigan and elsewhere concerned about privacy and wrongful conviction.

Google is done with geofence warrants

Google made it official in a recent announcement that it will no longer accept these requests for information. The company has virtually killed the geofence warrant with one sweeping policy change concerning how and when the location history of its users is accessed.

With the aid of reverse-location services, police could collect data from Google users based solely on the fact that they were near a crime scene when the incident occurred. Essentially, if someone happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, it was enough to invade their privacy. The idea that police could connect a person to felony drug crimes based solely on happenstance has long been seen as unreasonable by advocates of personal privacy. The end of these warrants at Google is a big win for these privacy advocates.

A geofence warrant could potentially be used to gather data from any tech company. Most of these warrants involve Google because it is a big company and historically willing to share user data.

Will this impact cold cases?

According to a report from Forbes, the change might not be such great news for public policy. Although innocent bystanders have had their privacy infringed upon in the process, it has also helped to solve many notable cold cases.

Despite the hesitance of judges to remove any of the tools at law enforcement’s disposal, that’s what has happened in this case. For that reason, it is now less important whether the practice is constitutional or not.