Yesterday NBC News posted an article that illustrates how the surveillance state can be a problem for perfectly innocent individuals.
The article reports:
The email arrived on a Tuesday afternoon in January, startling Zachary McCoy as he prepared to leave for his job at a restaurant in Gainesville, Florida.
It was from Google’s legal investigations support team, writing to let him know that local police had demanded information related to his Google account. The company said it would release the data unless he went to court and tried to block it. He had just seven days.
“I was hit with a really deep fear,” McCoy, 30, recalled, even though he couldn’t think of anything he’d done wrong. He had an Android phone, which was linked to his Google account, and, like millions of other Americans, he used an assortment of Google products, including Gmail and YouTube. Now police seemingly wanted access to all of it.
“I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew the police wanted to get something from me,” McCoy said in a recent interview. “I was afraid I was going to get charged with something, I don’t know what.”
There was one clue.
In the notice from Google was a case number. McCoy searched for it on the Gainesville Police Department’s website, and found a one-page investigation report on the burglary of an elderly woman’s home 10 months earlier. The crime had occurred less than a mile from the home that McCoy, who had recently earned an associate degree in computer programming, shared with two others.
The article goes on to say that McCoy went to his parents, explained what was happening, and they funded a lawyer for him. McCoy was trying to figure out how he got involved in something he was totally unaware of. He began to look at his phone and realized that he was using an exercise-tracking app, RunKeeper, to record the bike rides he was taking for exercise.
The article continues:
The lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, dug around and learned that the notice had been prompted by a “geofence warrant,” a police surveillance tool that casts a virtual dragnet over crime scenes, sweeping up Google location data — drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular connections — from everyone nearby.
The warrants, which have increased dramatically in the past two years, can help police find potential suspects when they have no leads. They also scoop up data from people who have nothing to do with the crime, often without their knowing ─ which Google itself has described as “a significant incursion on privacy.”
Please follow the link to read the entire article. However, the bottom line is simple–Mr. McCoy’s civil rights were violated when he was accused of a crime simply because his exercise application placed him in the neighborhood of the crime. There was no other evidence other than the illegal surveillance of his movements.
The article concludes with the outcome of the case:
On Jan. 31, Kenyon filed a motion in Alachua County civil court to render the warrant “null and void” and to block the release of any further information about McCoy, identifying him only as “John Doe.” At that point, Google had not turned over any data that identified McCoy but would have done so if Kenyon hadn’t intervened. Kenyon argued that the warrant was unconstitutional because it allowed police to conduct sweeping searches of phone data from untold numbers of people in order to find a single suspect.
That approach, Kenyon said, flipped on its head the traditional method of seeking a search warrant, in which police target a person they already suspect.
“This geofence warrant effectively blindly casts a net backwards in time hoping to ensnare a burglar,” Kenyon wrote. “This concept is akin to the plotline in many a science fiction film featuring a dystopian, fascist government.”
The filing seemed to give law enforcement authorities second thoughts about the warrant. Not long afterward, Kenyon said, a lawyer in the state attorney’s office assigned to represent the Gainesville Police Department told him there were details in the motion that led them to believe that Kenyon’s client was not the burglar. The state attorney’s office withdrew the warrant, asserting in a court filing that it was no longer necessary. The office did not respond to a request for comment.
Kenyon said that in a visit to his office, the detective acknowledged that police no longer considered his client a suspect.
On Feb. 24, Kenyon dropped his legal challenge.
The case ended well for McCoy, Kenyon said, but “the larger privacy fight will go unanswered.”
This is frightening.