Brickbats

Brickbat: Dragnet

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cellphone
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In at least four cases, Raleigh, North Carolina, police have obtained warrants demanding Google turn over account identifiers of every single cellphone around a crime scene around the time a crime happened. In two cases, they asked for every phone in a 17-acre area around the crime scene.

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  1. This is a good article with heavy skepticism for police use of technology to expand the scope of what falls under probable cause in a search warrant. Which is quite surprising for a local TV station.

    The author uses criminal defense attorneys to make the case that these warrants asking Google to provide identifiers for every cell phone account that passes through the area in a given time fail to meet the requirements for probable cause. I don’t know about that. As described, it seems very similar to obtaining warrants for video surveillance footage from nearby businesses, then using that information to track license plates and issue further warrants for other footage and finally warrants for individual searches.

    1. As much as I hate it, I think your analogy to video surveillance is a good one.

      A difference is that surveillance video is out of the control of the perpetrator, whereas possession of a phone is completely under control of the perp, which means in the video case, you can say their is a probability you’ll catch the criminal directly, and in the phone case you are only likely to find witnesses as a moderately sophisticated criminal would be hopefully be smart enough to leave any personally identifiable phone at home.

      1. I think you vastly overrate the sophistication of criminals – – – – – –

        1. Possibly, but your standard of criminal competency is likely based on the criminals that get caught.

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            1. Speaking of criminals that get caught – – – – –

      2. I first read this article a few weeks ago. Searching for a phone that was near all of the crime scenes was how they found the Austin bomber. They contacted Google for this information, then looked at that person’s search history to confirm that he searched for some of the items (batteries) that they had identified as a signature in his weapons.

        He was a reasonably sophisticated criminal who was caught in this very dragnet. The tendrils of Google already go uncomfortably deep into our lives, and it seems like it’s a well-known law enforcement technique that has been in use for years. How much privacy and freedom are we willing to sacrifice for the safety gained from the resolution of cases like these?

        1. “”How much privacy and freedom are we willing to sacrifice for the safety gained from the resolution of cases like these?””

          All of it?

  2. So much for warrants based upon probable cause for the person’s things to be searched.

    “We want to arrest everyone within a 17 acre area to find the suspect”.
    /police

  3. So they get everyone who doesn’t have a burner phone. Therefore, it is most likely the professional criminal has nothing to worry about. I wonder why that was missed in the article?

  4. If it is for a real crime with a victim, and not a drug war thing, then it is OK.

    1. Uh, maybe you missed the point that this is a libertarian site.
      Either it is OK, always, or it is not OK, ever.

  5. Well, this one is going to be really interesting.
    Those warrants describe the place to be searched (the servers), and the thing to be seized (location data, very well restricted to time and area). Statistically, I would say it is probable a crook had some type of electronic device. A smart crook on a planned crime like a robbery or specific gang killing might be smart enough to leave them elsewhere, but even then, sometimes not. So ‘probable’, yeah.
    That leaves ‘secure in their person’ as the only phrase to review, because this does not involve houses, papers, or effects. So is a cell phone signal part of your person these days? This is certainly more of a good faith effort than a certain security agency sweeping the entire world for every bit of transmitted data.

    The major concern I have with these warrants, and other trawls through the internet/web spaces is the compulsory nondisclosure to the public part.

    1. The major concern I have with these warrants, as with all warrants, is that you can’t blame the cops for asking for warrants based on no particular probable cause but what about the rubber-stamp judges who are issuing these defective warrants? And the prosecutors who will go right ahead and pursue charges based on them? The judiciary and the courts are supposed to be independent of the police, but as long as I’ve been aware they’re all working hand-in-glove to obtain convictions and justice be damned.

    2. Most of these guys are not smart enough to not carry dope while on a caper. Never commit a crime when you are committing a crime.

      1. Get a better comment system like Facebook, and you’ll get many more comments. I don’t bother commenting here because there is no feedback on my comments.

        1. Maybe the comments just aren’t that into you?

        2. “I don’t bother commenting here because there is no feedback on my comments.”

          This was a particularly stupid comment!

          Satisfied?

          1. You probably made him more satisfied that he doesn’t get feedback on his comments…

        3. So you only know if you’re right if enough people like it?

  6. I find it interesting that they go after google identifiers, instead of the cell phone providers. It might make sense in a way: you get a burner phone, you visit a pattern of your usual online sites that use google analytics, you are can possibly be pinned down from that. You login anywhere that uses google analytics, your new phone is attached to your account, boom.

    Then again, I wonder if google is just easier for the cops to deal with, than tracking down individual cell-phone suppliers. Or does Google have some department/subsidiary, specifically for dealing with requests from CopSpace? [It’d be automated, and therefore exploitable. Because it’s Google.]

    1. Thinking on this a little more … if you have google maps preinstalled on the burner phone, you are hosed. It automatically collects data points everywhere you go, an if you bring it to your house (powered up) more than one or two overnights, it now has your ‘home’ located, even if it is not displayed.

      1. You need to train google maps to label your home as some other address…

        1. You can label wherever you want as ‘home’, but google maps knows where you return to every night.

          1. Well, for some of the younger folks, that may not be the same place every night

  7. Years ago I said one day cops will use cell phone location data instead of the usual canvassing to ask people if they know anything about the crime.

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