Edina police ask for whole city's Google searches, and a judge says yes

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Edina Police want to know which of their residents have been Googling this guy's name.

 The people of Edina probably don't know it, but they're doing battle with the Edina Police Department over the right to online privacy.

The cops are winning.

As detailed in a report from Tony Webster earlier this week, a Hennepin County judge has granted the Edina Police Department an extraordinary degree of access to citizens' Google history, as cops attempt to crack the case of a wire transfer fraud. 

In specific, police want to know who has searched for a particular name used as part of that fraud. Typed into Google, a search for the same name -- "Douglas" something, according to a warrant -- also turns up photos that were used on a fake passport by the criminal, who was seeking a fraudulent wire transfer of $28,500. 

Cops figure if they could just find out who in that affluent suburb has Googled that name, they'd narrow their suspect list right down. Of course, people's Google search history not only isn't public, it's not usually available to local cops trying to bust a small-time swindler. 

And yet, on February 1, Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson agreed with the police, approving a search warrant that looks into "any/all user or subscriber information" of anyone in Edina who'd looked up that name between December 1, 2016, and January 7. Later that same day, an investigator filed the warrant with Google's "custodian of records" department in California. 

The warrant requests the day and time of the search, though that's not all. Search warrant findings should  "include, but [are] not limited to: name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), dates of birth, social security numbers, email addresses, payment information, account information, IP addresses, and MAC addresses of the person(s) who requested/completed the search."

Oh, and while you're at it, Google, why not throw in what kind of porn they like? 

Whether Google will -- or even can -- grant Edina's search request is unclear, but Webster notes this kind of broadly applied search puts Edina (and, now, Hennepin County) pretty damn far down the slippery slope:

"If Google were to provide personal information on anyone who Googled the victim’s name, would Edina Police raid their homes, or would they first do further investigative work? The question is: what comes next? If you bought a pressure cooker on Amazon a month before the Boston bombing, do police get to know about it?"

Fair point. But even in that example, it's a reference to an investigation of an imminent national security threat. In the case of "Douglas (something or other)," Edina police are raiding people's Google history to catch a man who committed $28,500 worth of bank fraud.

Do not mess with Edina's banks.

 


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