Steve Wyer | Google Issues Warrant to Reveal Searchers of Fraud Victim Name

February 24, 2017 in Steve Wyer | Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , ,

In March 2017, a judge just outside of Minneapolis signed a warrant demanding Google release subscriber information of Internet users who search a fraud victim’s name within a five week period, reports Steve Wyer.

In early 2017, an Edina, Minnesota, man found himself the victim of a fraudulent passport and bank scam. According to Steve Wyer, the image on the passport was available online via the Google search engine. The victim, a local businessman, noted a substantial transfer – $28,500 – out of his personal account. Steve Wyer explains the perpetrator faxed a bogus passport to the victim’s credit union requesting the transfer to a third party account. The fax was sent using a program that mimicked the victim’s telephone number.

The warrant, which was signed in February by Senior Judge Gary Lawson, demands Google’s compliance with local law enforcement. The warrant specifically requests personal information of people who searched the victim’s name between December 1, 2016 and January 7, 2017, reports Steve Wyer. Google was the only search engine to receive a warrant, as Yahoo and Bing did not render the image used on the fake passport, says Steve Wyer. The search warrant commands that Google release names, email addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers, and other personally-identifying information of those searching the specific keyword requested.

The Edina Police Department refused to comment when public records activist Tony Webster, the journalist who uncovered the original warrant, asked for clarification, says Steve Wyer. This reluctance to comment was expected as police departments typically do not disclose information related to active cases or investigation strategies, according to Steve Wyer.

Prior to issuing the warrant, the Edina Police Department sent Google a less formal administrative subpoena. Steve Wyer noted that this subpoena, which Google ignored,  requested subscriber information for people who had performed a Google search of the victim’s name. Steve Wyer describes an administrative subpoena as a less official version of a search warrant; it is not signed by a judge. There are three legal processes by which a government agency can request information: subpoena, court order, and search warrant, states Steve Wyer.

Google has made no specific public statements relating to the warrant, but suggests plans to fight it, according to Steve Wyer.

As stated in Google’s Transparency Report, user privacy is always at the forefront of the company’s decision to comply (or not) with warrants. Google often seeks to narrow if the requested information is perceived as too broad. Steve Wyer notes that Google is known for rejecting court orders in favor of more specific queries in order to protect user privacy.

Each request for information received by Google, says Steve Wyer, is reviewed to ensure it satisfies all of Google’s applicable legal requirements. Google receives tens of thousands of requests for information every year, and Steve Wyer reports that in January 2016 the search engine received more than 14,000 requests affecting 30,000 users in the United States.

Steve Wyer says it will be interesting to see how Google responds to Judge Larson’s warrant and believes this is a case to keep an eye on for future precedent.

Comments are closed.