More and more, people are realizing that their personal information is being made public. Most of us carry cell phones that are constantly gathering, and in some cases, sharing information we might not prefer they didn’t. Google alone has enough information about most of us to make suggestions that are either clairvoyant or intrusive, depending on how you feel about it.
This rapid growth in information gathering has another feature that should be concerning to the public. Data is being requested and turned over to authorities to help them with criminal investigations.
The way this is handled raises a number of issues and could easily be considered a violation of your rights. The use of “keyword” warrants and geofence warrants will likely lead to legal battles in the future.
The Basics of a Warrant
Getting a search warrant in Texas requires law enforcement to demonstrate a few key facts. Officials must provide a sworn affidavit containing facts that establish probable cause that:
- A specific criminal offense has been committed
- The property or items to be searched are evidence of the offense or evidence that a particular person committed that offense
- The property or items to be searched for or seized are located at or on the particular person, place, or thing to be searched
While there are complications and exceptions, this is the general idea behind a search warrant.
What Are Keyword and Geofence Warrants?
A keyword warrant is a request from police to Google (or another search engine) to provide information about any users who entered particular search terms related to a crime and in the area around the crime. As an example, if someone robbed a bank, police might ask Google to provide information regarding anyone who searched for “how to rob a bank” in the region where the crime occurred.
A geofence warrant is both more common and more controversial. A geofence warrant would have police ask for data from any devices that were located in the area where a crime occurred. In the previous example, it would mean gathering the information from every worker, customer, or bystander in or around the bank that was robbed at the time of the robbery.
What’s the Controversy?
Going back to the basics of a search warrant, you can identify a serious flaw in the unfettered use of geofence warrants. The vast majority of the information being gathered in these instances is not going to be evidence of the crime or that a particular person committed the crime.
Warrants are necessary because they protect the public from violations of our right to privacy. If someone steals your neighbor’s jewelry, police can’t search your house, and all the neighbor’s houses, in the hopes that maybe one of you did it. If they don’t have a valid reason to think you committed a crime, you can’t be searched.
Call an Experienced Attorney if You Are Served With a Warrant
The rules surrounding warrants and criminal investigations are complicated. If you’re involved in a criminal investigation, you should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. At Lee & Wood, LP, our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience. We can protect your rights. Call 817-678-6771 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.