A geofence warrant is a special investigative tactic used by law enforcement to find criminal suspects in cases where the investigative trail has gone cold or for crimes where there are simply no leads. The use of these warrants has recently come under a lot of scrutiny. Privacy advocates and experienced criminal defense attorneys in Alabama are fighting back against the use of unacceptable means of data collection during investigations.
What Does a Geofence Warrant Entail?
Geofence search warrants allow the police to get sweeping data from all cellphone and mobile device users in a particular location at a given point in time. Typically, federal criminal investigations require search warrants for accessing third-party location data.
They are also used for identifying possible witnesses and suspects in crimes. Geofence warrants allow police to have blanket access to data. Innocent users are seemingly unaware of this breach of privacy and that the government has access to their private location information.
Google receives the major share of geofence warrant requests because of its 2.5 billion user base and location history tech. Android operation system uses Wi-Fi networks, GPS signals, cell tower data, and Bluetooth beacons for gathering and storing user information. Apps like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and Chrome are also used for gathering similar information.
Google estimates that there has been a 1500% increase in geofence warrants from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019.
Geofence Warrants are Not Completely Constitutional
The Government’s application for a Google geofence search warrant was recently reviewed by the US District Court in Illinois. The geofence search warrant submitted by the government was revised thrice and denied every time. The court denied the warrant on the constitutional grounds of being too broad.
The initial search warrant application made by the government requested the following information:
- Location history data of all users during a certain date and time range at two set areas.
- Blinded information on device timestamps, IDs, display radius, location coordinates, and data sources.
- Government’s ability to request selective subscriber information.
The court ruled that the warrant was too broad with the location radius extending beyond a specific crime location. The warrant contained retail shops, residential units, public sidewalks, grocery stores, city streets, and parking lots. The warrant would have gathered massive information on any user that happened to be in the designated area. In addition, the warrant did not have any protections against releasing private information of irrelevant persons.
The warrant was denied three times on the constitutional grounds of being too broad. Even when the Government limited their request to those IDs that witnessed the criminal activity or may have committed it, they could not provide Google with a way of identifying them.
Geofence warrants give the police too much leverage in choosing the device IDs that need to be subject to further investigation. The Government has no way of obtaining and providing evidence about a person’s involvement in the crime before seizing their location data. The court ruled that geofence warrants in this particular case were a general search request instead of a specific one.
The court also stated that warrants should not be used as “open-ended authorizations for public officials to rummage where they please in order to see what turns up.”
Challenging the Scope of Geofence Warrants in Alabama
Citizens have the right to be secure in their houses, persons, papers, and effects from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Any warrant issued by a judge needs to be on the basis of probable cause. This is true for geofence warrants as well. Probable cause refers to a reasonable belief that the suspect committed the crime.
Warrants cannot be issued in the US without probable cause. The police are not authorized to conduct searches or make arrests. You should consult with a competent criminal defense attorney if you were arrested on the basis of a geofence warrant. The attorney will file a motion to suppress the scope of the warrant by challenging that it is unconstitutionally broad.
There have been several recent cases on the use of geofence warrants that have gained attention from Congress. Judges may not be as willing to allow the use of evidence obtained through geofence warrants. Constitutional challenges to the geofence warrant will be waived if the information obtained is used without objection or the accused pleads guilty.
Always speak with a seasoned federal defense attorney if you were arrested on the basis of geofence warrants. In fact, you should speak with a capable criminal defense attorney if your case involves digital information or attempted searches of electronic devices.
Get a Free Case Evaluation from Our Reputable Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you were arrested and charged with a crime based on geofence warrants, the skilled criminal defense attorneys at the Alsobrook Law Group can review the evidence against you and determine the best defense strategy for getting your charges dropped. We will identify and explore all concerns related to the violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
To request your free, no-obligation consultation, call us at 334-737-3718 or complete this online form.