Google has revealed that over a quarter of all data request warrants it gets from US authorities involve identifying people by location history. These orders, which pinpoint devices near a crime scene, have been called “invasive.”
The so-called ‘geofence warrants’ allow law enforcement agencies to specify area and timeframe and have the tech giant gather information, including names and other details, about persons of interest in that window – from location information recorded by apps and services like Google Maps.
As part of its latest transparency report, the tech giant on Thursday revealed that it received more than 20,000 geofence warrants in the US between 2018 and 2020. It was the first time Google disclosed the volume of these controversial requests, having resisted demands to do so in the past.
Noting that these warrants are only “one subcategory” of the search warrant requests the company gets, Google noted it had “seen a rise” in the number of warrants ordering it to identify users by location info since 2018. That year, it received 982 geofence warrants, and the figure spiked to 11,554 in 2020.
As well, the vast majority of such warrants – to the tune of nearly 96% – are obtained by local and state law enforcement bodies, while federal agencies account for the remainder. Authorities in California made the most information requests between the years specified in the report.