The Times makes reference to an arrest made in a murder investigation by Phoenix police. The suspect was found after the cops used a search warrant forcing Google to release information about the majority of the devices close to the crime scene that it had data on.
In any case, proving that this information doesn’t generally enable the cops to capture the liable party, the man was released and the crime stuck on his mother’s boyfriend. Those who work for Google point out that the company doesn’t generally react to warrants seeking location data with information on a solitary phone. Sometimes the data it gives the cops identifying with a single warrant deals with several devices.
While law enforcement authorities are excited about the possibility of using location data to discover suspects in a criminal examination, the cops note that they can’t charge someone just because they appear in Google’s database. Speaking of which, Sensorvault reportedly contains area data covering a huge number of devices dating back nearly 10 years. When a request from law enforcement comes in, it usually seeks information from Google relating to the devices that appear as being in a specific location during a particular time.
Law enforcement authorities that spoke with the Times said that only Google can react to respond to requests for such data. They note that Apple says that it does not have the capabilities to give such location data. In any case, one intelligence analyst with the sheriff’s office in San Mateo County, California says that based on his experience, Google has the location data accessible for most Android phones and some iPhones too.
The information given by Google not just enables the cops to discover suspects, it can lead them to witnesses who may have seen or heard something vital during the commission of a crime. Regardless of the apparent usefulness of the Sensorvault database, some Google representatives point out that the database was not created to serve the requirements of law enforcement and could generate data which is not accurate.
Catherine Turner, Minnesota defense attorney said that “There are privacy worries that we a whole have with our phones being tracked — and when those sorts of issues are pertinent in a criminal case, that should give everybody serious interruption.”
With the expanding number of requests for data, the Google unit that provides the data to law enforcement is overwhelmed. As a result, it can take up to six months for the cops to acquire the information they want. One Google representative says that it received 180 requests in one week for data from its Sensorvault database.
Google’s location data “doesn’t pop out the answer like a ticker tape”
Legal experts also note that blameless people are becoming involved with the location data that Google gives the cops. While the information from Google is fixed in certain states, in others the data can be gotten by the press and an innocent person could end up named in the media as being connected to a crime. And the cops have an approach to get around the fourth amendment’s interest that a search warrant covers a restricted zone, and contain probable cause. To prove reasonable justification, most warrants express that most Americans possess cellphones and Google has location data on huge numbers of these phones. That is sufficient for a judge to issue the warrant in most cases.
It isn’t known what number of these warrants has led to capture or a conviction. A senior investigator working for the state of Washington, Gary Ernsdorff, has managed a few of these warrants and he noticed that the data from Google “doesn’t pop out the answer like a ticker tape, saying this guy’s guilty.” Suspects still should be explored and Ernsdorff includes that “We’re not going to charge anybody just since Google said they were there.”