Judge: Warrant for Google Location History Was Unconstitutional

Cops used 'geofence warrant' to find people who were near scene of bank robbery
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 31, 2022 4:27 AM CDT
Judge Says 'Geofence Warrant' Was Unconstitutional
This aerial drone photo shows the Call Federal Credit Union building in Midlothian, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(Newser) – A warrant that used Google location history to find people near the scene of a 2019 bank robbery violated their constitutional protection against unreasonable searches, a federal judge has ruled. The decision—believed to be the first of its kind—could make it more difficult for police to continue using an investigative technique that has exploded in popularity in recent years, privacy experts say. The ruling came earlier this month in a closely watched Virginia case in which the robbery suspect argued that the use of a "geofence warrant" violated the Fourth Amendment, the AP reports.

Geofence warrants seek location data on every person within a specific location over a certain period of time. To work, those people must be using cellphones or other electronic devices that have the location history feature enabled. US District Judge Hannah Lauck found that the warrant violated the constitution by gathering the location history of people near the bank without having any evidence that they had anything to do with the robbery. "The warrant simply did not include any facts to establish probable cause to collect such broad and intrusive data from each of these individuals," Lauck wrote in her ruling.

In the Virginia case, a man robbed the Call Federal Credit Union in Midlothian on May 20, 2019. After following a couple of leads that didn't pan out, police went to a magistrate judge and obtained a geofence search warrant, seeking location history from Google for any devices located within a 164-yard radius of the bank around the time of the robbery. They arrested Okello Chatrie, who was charged with armed robbery. Chatrie, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, will not benefit from Lauck’s ruling. She denied his lawyers’ request to suppress the evidence produced by the warrant, finding that the detective was not at fault because he had consulted with prosecutors before applying for the warrant. (Read more privacy stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
X
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.

X