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Police Requests for Google Users' Location Histories Face New Scrutiny

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One person's location history, from Google Maps.

Police use of a type of warrant to monitor Google users locations en masse is facing its first legal and political challenges.

Credit: Google

Police use of "geofence" warrants is being disputed by criminal defendants in Virginia and San Francisco, and could be banned by lawmakers in New York in what are considered the tactic's first legal and political challenges.

These warrants involve scanning geographic areas and time periods for suspects through user location histories stored by tech companies. In both legal cases, police used data from Google.

To maintain as much user privacy as possible, Google searches its entire database of accounts with location history enabled to determine which users passed through the general area during the specified time period and compiles the information into an anonymized data set for police.

However, authorities may try to compel Google to de-anonymize account data to identify specific users.

If Google complies, privacy advocates are worried police will seek similar data from fitness trackers, ride-share apps, and other companies.

From The Wall Street Journal
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