With increasing frequency, law enforcement has been using unconstitutional, suspicionless digital dragnet searches in an attempt to identify unknown suspects in criminal cases. Whether these searches are for everyone who was near a building where a crime occurred or who searched for a keyword like “bomb” or who shares genetic data with a crime scene DNA sample, 2021 saw more and more of these searches—and more attempts to push back and rein in unconstitutional law enforcement behavior.
While dragnet searches were once thought to be just the province of the NSA, they are now easier than ever for domestic law enforcement to conduct as well. This is because of the massive amounts of digital information we share—knowingly or not—with companies and third parties. This data, including information on where we’ve been, what we’ve searched for, and even our genetic makeup, is stored in vast databases of consumer-generated information, and law enforcement has ready access to it—frequently without any legal process. All of this consumer data allows police to, essentially, pluck a suspect out of thin air.
EFF has been challenging unconstitutional dragnet searches for years, and we’re now seeing greater awareness and pushback from other organizations, judges, legislators, and even some companies. This post will summarize developments in 2021 on one type of dragnet suspicionless search—reverse location data searches.