As a former Minnesotan, this story piqued my attention over the weekend. Police in Edina, which is one of the metropolitan suburbs of Minneapolis, were granted a warrant that permitted them to collect information on any of the city's residents who used specific search terms (on Google's search engine), all in the spirit of locating a thief who stole $28,500.
Why, exactly, did this happen? According to the Edina police:
The complicated investigation stems from the fact the Edina police believe someone used the victim's name, date of birth, social security number and a forged passport to illegally wire the money.
That fake passport included an incorrect photo only attainable by searching the victim's name in Google images. No other search engine allegedly reveals it.
Apart from this raising considerable concerns over privacy voilations for everyone who isn't the thief, Google is taking a stand as well. The broadness of probable cause definitions is at the heart of the controversy, as this kind of thing could set dangerous precedents moving forward. A lot of information is being demanded for residents associated with looking up the name:
In addition to basic contact information for people targeted by the warrant, Google is being asked to provide Edina police with their Social Security numbers, account and payment information, and IP (internet protocol) and MAC (media access control) addresses.
A spokesperson for Google, which received the warrant, said Friday: “We will continue to object to this overreaching request for user data, and if needed, will fight it in court. We always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.”