Craig discusses geofence warrants and why they are so popular with law enforcement investigators.  Has the court seen enough? Listen in to find out.

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Automated Machine-Generated Transcript:

Craig Peterson: [00:00:00] Welcome back everybody. The fed had been out there using stingrays and other devices to watch where you’re at. We’re going to talk about that right now, and a new core ruling against the feds for some of the stuff they’ve been doing to spy.

 We’re not just talking about spying on the bad guys. This isn’t a FISA court thing. This is in fact, the feds taking the lazy way out. So think about you. If you were a police officer trying to investigate a crime, what’s the easiest way for you to figure out who was in the area when a bank was robbed?

Okay. I’m going to give you one second. What’s the easiest way. it turns out that apparently the easiest way is to just send a letter to Google asking them for information about every phone within a 100-meter radius of where a suspected crime occurred.

Now, isn’t that an interesting thing, right? Isn’t that an interesting way to do it?

You might say, I’ve got an iPhone I don’t have Google. So they’re not going to be able to give that information to the fed. Do you have any Google apps on your phone that might be keeping track of your location? Things like, oh, I don’t know. Google maps for instance.

That could be a bit of a problem because federal courts in the Chicago area have now rejected government warrant applications three times. The government has applied for a warrant to force Google to produce a list of smartphones that were near a couple of places where the feds thought that crimes might have occurred, during the specified 45-minute intervals.

Now, this recent ruling was handed down just last week and was recently made public and ARS Technica is talking about this. Now the numbers are frankly, striking here because these decisions really haven’t significant impact. Google has reported. The growth in the law enforcement use of what are being called geo-fence searches.

Are you familiar with geofencing? On your Android or your iPhone you can say, Hey, I’m on my to-do list here. I got a pickup toilet paper when I get near the grocery store because we all know there’s no toilet paper in grocery stores. So when you drive by the grocery store, you can have a little, geofence set up on your phone that says, Hey, remember you got to get toilet paper. Then you can run to the grocery store, pick up your toilet paper, and be on your way.

Geo-fencing when we’re talking about these types of searches means a little bit different, but almost the same. That is Google gets or Apple gets a demand from the police, a warrant, that says, tell me about every phone that was within again, a hundred meters, 300 feet of this business of this area during this 45 minute period.

Now, what we’re seeing here is a 1500% increase in these types of warrants between 2017 and 2018. And then it jumped up again. Another 600%. percentages don’t mean much unless you have the raw numbers. Let me give you the raw numbers. Google says that they received 180 geofence search requests a week.

During 2019, that kinda adds up. At least I think it adds up. So let me see 180 a week. And let’s just say there are 52 weeks in a year. Oh my gosh. That’s almost 10,000 of these warrants that Google has to respond to every day. And if we say 180 a week and we divided by, Oh, I don’t know. let’s say the police work seven days a week.

That means 25 warrants per day, almost 26 warrants per day. So that’s a couple of full-time people just to respond to these. Of course, it also has to go over to the legal side and everything else. It gets to be a real problem. Google is a very popular target for these warns because almost everyone uses Google products in one way or another.

Think of our cars, how many of our cars have Android in them? How many of them are using Google maps? How many of our cars have GPS on them?  All of that is being tracked by Google. Yes, indeed. Android controls a majority of the smartphone market right now.  As I mentioned earlier, even those of us who have I-phones might be using Gmail or Google maps.

So this is going to be an ongoing problem. I think it needs to be solved at a bit of a higher level than just district courts in various States out there. now for years, the. Police have gone after the cell phone companies to ask where a phone was that the whole idea of a tower location. What will happen is, am I trying to triangulate you more frequently? However, all of the phone companies will have is just data that you were connected to this cell tower, which means you, it was probably the closest cell tower to you because that’s the idea, right? You’ll hop between the South towers, depending on which one is the strongest. This is a kind of a Dragnet approach. Something I do not approve of and many courts don’t approve of just because it makes it easier for the police doesn’t mean it’s constitutional. In one case last year, Google was required to hand over information on almost 1500 users to federal investigators, working on a Wisconsin arson case.

We’ve also seen. Cases where a guy was running his bicycle back and forth on this back street. Not like he was right in front of one house, but he got nailed because he was on that street at the wrong time. Although ultimately they figured out he had nothing to do with the crime, so they just turned his life upside down.

So we’ll see what happens. This Chicago case apparently is being, appealed, and if the appeal goes through, it could place new limits on these broad government data requests, which I think is ultimately a pretty good deal. By the way, what were they investigating? it turns out they’re investigating a case where there were stolen pharmaceuticals, apparently sold on the black market and investigators believe that the bad guys stole the pharmaceuticals from this drug store or a clinic, and then traveled to another one to ship them to customers like a FedEx or ups stores. So to help them investigate, the suspect, the investigators asked Google for data about every smartphone that was near either this drug store or the medical clinic or FedEx or ups during a particular 45-minute window, one window, the first location, two windows on different days of the second. So the application was rejected. It was said to be too broad. The government narrowed its request too much narrower areas right around the buildings, but the courts rejected them all.

The court said none of them complied with the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that warrant particularly described the persons or things to be seized. Interesting. Very interesting. I know. What do you think about this? these all persons warrants are generally considered to be unconstitutional that’s part of the reason we have the fourth amendment because the King was issuing these very vague big in the general warrant, the gave his military officers, governors and others, the ability to just go in and harass anybody they basically wanted to. So I tend to agree with the courts on this one. Sometimes, I disagree sometimes I agree, but then, in order to really justify this kind of a geo-fence search the government, according to this judge needs to show that everyone in the geofenced areas likely to be involved in the crime.

So how does this work when we’re talking about these domestic terrorists that are burning down, buildings, cars dragging people from cars, beating them. Are we going to see these types of cases, as well as the geofence? Ultimately we will see. But again, it’s another reason.

Not only do the bad guys have apps that are attracting you. And I talk about those a lot, but the good guys are too. And. They might just upturn your life for what turns out to be not particularly good reason and something that’s probably against the fourth amendment.

Alright. When we come back, we’re going to talk about a business problem right now, and that has to do with it. Security person, now there’s a huge shortage, but what’s the cost. When you lose the security person, you’re listening to Craig Peterson, WGAN.

Stick around. Cause we’ll be right back.

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