Google allowed its location data to be used by US police to nab suspected robber

  • Technology
  • Friday, 22 Nov 2019

Prosecutors said the search was legal because Chartrie opted to use Google's location services, allowing the company to track his movements on his Android phone. — AFP

Police in the United States have arrested a 24-year-old man accused of bank robbery by using Google location data.

According to NBC News, an officer obtained a warrant for Google's location data from all cellphones within the area of the Call Federal Credit Union bank specific to the time when the robbery took place. The officer decided to do so after looking into security footage at the bank where the masked suspect was seen holding a cellphone to his ear just before the robbery.

A separate report by The Washington Post stated that Google turned over a list of 19 anonymous individuals after receiving a warrant asking them to give authorities the location information on every user within the vicinity of the bank during the crime.

From there police whittled down the list to nine users, then asked Google for more data from an expanded time frame. Court documents reviewed by The Washington Post showed that police contacted Google again for three users' account details, including names, email addresses, subscriber information and phone numbers, and subsequently narrowed down their search to one man.

The suspect is then identified as Okello Chatrie, who was accused of robbing a bank and fleeing with US$195,000 (RM812,779) in an incident that took place back in May. Chatrie, who has been charged with armed robbery, pleaded not guilty.

NBC News stated police used a geofence warrant, an order that allows law enforcement authorities to access massive amount of data on user information collected by the company. Geofence warrants let police track anyone using an Android device or apps like Google maps and Gmail to a particular place during a specific period of time.

The method has raised concerns among privacy advocates, saying it is a violation of the US' Fourth Amendment right where people should be safeguarded from unreasonable searches.

Chartrie's lawyers have slammed the method in a court filing, calling it "the digital equivalent of searching every home in the neighbourhood of a reported burglary, or searching the bags of every person walking along Broadway because of a theft in Times Square".

"Without the name or number of a single suspect, and without ever demonstrating any likelihood that Google even has data connected to a crime, law enforcement invades the privacy of tens or hundreds or thousands of individuals, just because they were in the area," the court filing stated.

Prosecutors on the other hand said the search was legal because Chartrie opted to use Google's location services, allowing the company to track his movements on his Android phone. They added that police avoided collecting personal information on those not connected to the robbery incident.

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