A bill to ban geofence and keyword search warrants in New York gains traction

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A New York bill that would prohibit state law enforcement from obtaining residents’ private user data from the tech giant through the use of a controversial search warrant will get another chance two years after it was first introduced.

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reverse location search prohibition act The bill was re-introduced in the New York Assembly and Senate last year by a group of Democratic lawmakers after the first failed to pass. Last week, the bill was referred to committee, the first major hurdle before being considered for a floor vote.

The bill, if passed, would be the first state law in the US to end the use of geofence warrants and keyword search warrants, which ask technology companies to turn over data about users who are near crime scenes. were or were discovered. particular keywords at a specific time.


For geofence warrants — also known as “reverse location” warrants — law enforcement asks a judge to order Google, which collects and stores billions of location data points from its users’ phones and apps. Whose phones turn on the record in a given time. Geographical radius at the time of crime to help identify potential suspects. Geofence warrants a specific Google problem; Law enforcement knows how to tap Google’s database of location data, which Searchers uses to run its advertising business, garnering the company close to $150 billion in revenue last year.

It’s a similar process to Google searches; Law enforcement seeks warrant from a judge to demand that Google overturn who searched for certain keywords during a particular window of time. Although less publicly known, keyword search warrants are in increasing use and are not limited to Google alone; Microsoft and Yahoo (which owns Nerdshala) also tapped For user data using this type of legal process.

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The use of these warrants has been called a “fishing campaign” by Internet rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which recently gave his support Along with the New York Bill ACLU, Critics say such warrants are unconstitutionally broad and invasive because they invariably collect data on innocent people nearby who have no connection to the crime.

Nerdshala reported last year that Minneapolis police used geofence warrants to identify protesters accused of inciting violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. NBC News And Guardian revealed how completely innocent people have been charged with criminality only for being close to the scene of a crime.

Geofence warrants account for about one-quarter of all US legal demands it receives, according to data published by Google. Since Google is widely known among law enforcement as a source of linking location data and search terms to real-world suspects, Google processed more than 11,500 geofence warrants in 2020, up from a thousand in 2018. less when the practice was still in its relative infancy.

The state of New York accounted for about 2-3% of all geofence warrants, which was equivalent to hundreds of warrants in total.

New York state senator Zellnor Myrie, who represents central Brooklyn and sponsored the Senate bill, told Nerdshala: “Dense, urban communities like the ones I represent in Brooklyn have hundreds or thousands of innocent people who live only near a crime scene. Live or move may be implicated by a geofence warrant that will alter their personal location data. And keyword search warrants will identify users who have searched for a specific word, name or location. Our bill for such warrants and protect the privacy of New Yorkers.”

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