Friday, March 1, 2024

Gov’t Orders Google to Turn Over Users’ Data Based on Keyword Searches

'This is a virtual dragnet through the public’s interests, beliefs, opinions, values and friendships, akin to mind reading powered by the Google time machine...'

(Coleman Hopkins) According to recently released documents, the Biden administration is issuing secret warrants to Google requesting that the tech giant turn over user information if and when users search certain terms. 

Unsealed court documents brought to light by Forbes show that the government has introduced a new category of warrant altogether: the keyword warrant.  

It would require Google to turn over information on anyone who happens to search a particular name, address, or phone number. 

This breaks with past practices where Google would respond to specific government requests.

In normal years, the government makes thousands of requests for information from Google; under this approach, Google could turn over untold amounts of data on users—all because they happened to search for the wrong term. 

Even more disquietingly, perhaps, the tech giant suggested in a statement that the bombshell revelation signaled nothing out of the ordinary in terms of its cooperation with federal authorities.

“As with all law enforcement requests, we have a rigorous process that is designed to protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” a Google spokesperson told Forbes.

Yet, even the American Civil Liberties Union—which, over recent years, has been seemingly more concerned with partisan politics than protecting Americans’ civil liberties—has weighed in on these so-called “keyword warrants.”  

“Trawling through Google’s search history database enables police to identify people merely based on what they might have been thinking about, for whatever reason, at some point in the past,” ACLU surveillance and cybersecurity counsel Jennifer Granick told Forbes. “This is a virtual dragnet through the public’s interests, beliefs, opinions, values and friendships, akin to mind reading powered by the Google time machine.”

Granick observed that these warrants would sweep up vastly more people than usual while also insulating the government from traditional forms of oversight—all while constricting privacy rights and First Amendment guarantees.

“This never-before-possible technique threatens First Amendment interests and will inevitably sweep up innocent people, especially if the keyword terms are not unique and the time frame not precise,” she said. “To make matters worse, police are currently doing this in secret, which insulates the practice from public debate and regulation.”

The introduction of keyword warrants is the latest move by the Biden administration to use the power of the state to try and limit the speech rights of dissidents.  

Earlier this week, the Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Merrick Garland, announced that it will instruct the FBI to investigate “threats of violence” pertaining to protests against school boards and their policies. 

This comes after a letter was sent to the Biden Administration by the National School Board Association requesting that some parents opposed to the instruction of Critical Race Theory topics be considered as possible “domestic terrorists.”  

This action flies in the face of President Biden’s promise to keep politics out of the DOJ. The goal of these FBI investigations is clear: to intimidate and limit the efforts of parents to exert control over the public schools that they fund. 

Biden campaigned on a return to normalcy, and he announced that “America is Back” when he declared victory in November 2020. 

Increasingly, it looks like the America of Biden’s administration is going back to the post-Sept. 11 George W. Bush administration—only now, the PATRIOT Act is being turned inward on US citizens.

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