A court in Minnesota has told Google to hand over the names of everyone who inputted a particular search
Google has been served with a search warrant by a Minnesota judge which requires the firm to hand over personally identifiable information on anyone who has searched for a particular name.
The warrant, published by public records researcher Tony Webster, requires Google to provide a wealth of information on any internet user who was found to have searched for one of four variations of a fraud victims name.
The rationale for the records request is to do with the specifics of the fraud case: the perpetrator attempted to initiate a $28,500 wire transfer from the victims account, using a fake passport as ID. That passport, according to police, was illustrated with a picture of someone with the same name as the victim.
A Google image search of the victims name brings up that same image, the warrant says, while comparable searches using Bing and Yahoo do not. That led the police to conclude that the perpetrator likely carried out the same search, in order to find the photo in the first place.
The warrant, which was approved by Judge Gary Larson in early February, calls on Google to hand over data on all searches for the victims name that took place between 1 December 2016 and 7 January 2017. That data includes names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, IP addresses and account information of all the people who carried out the search, according to the warrant.
Any Google user in the world could potentially be covered by the warrant, which doesnt contain any restriction as to whose data should be handed over. Webster told Ars Technica that despite pro forma language limiting the search to the town of Edina, the warrants demands arent limited to just the immediate physical environment.
Whether the warrant is legally sound is a matter of some contention. Webster argues that search warrants require supporting probable cause, not just mere suspicion or theory.
For that reason, anyone-who-accessed search warrants can be risky to execute, as evidence could potentially be thrown out in a pretrial motion, he adds. Moreover, its possible that such a wide net could catch completely routine and non-criminal searches of the victims name by neighbours, prospective employers or business associates, journalists, or friends.
Andrew Crocker, an attorney at the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, joked that the case should be renamed: Case name should be In re Minnesota Unconstitutional General Warrant.
A Google spokesperson told Forbes that We arent able to comment on specific cases, but we will always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.
- This article was amended on 20 March 2017. An earlier version suggested that the warrant applied only to people in Edina.