Police in Minneapolis obtained a search warrant ordering Google to turn over sets of account data on vandals accused of sparking violence in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year, TechCrunch has learned.
The death of Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in May 2020, prompted thousands to peacefully protest across the city. But violence soon erupted, which police say began with a masked man seen in a viral video using an umbrella to smash windows of an auto-parts store in south Minneapolis. The AutoZone store was the first among dozens of buildings across the city set on fire in the days following.
The search warrant compelled Google to provide police with the account data on anyone who was “within the geographical region” of the AutoZone store when the violence began on May 27, two days after Floyd’s death.
These so-called geofence warrants — or reverse-location warrants — are frequently directed at Google in large part because the search and advertising giant collects and stores vast databases of geolocation data on billions of account holders who have “location history” turned on. Geofence warrants allow police to cast a digital dragnet over a crime scene and ask tech companies for records on anyone who entered a geographic area at a particular time. But critics say these warrants are unconstitutional as they also gather the account information on innocent passers-by.
TechCrunch learned of the search warrant from Minneapolis resident Said Abdullahi, who received an email from Google stating that his account information was subject to the warrant, and would be given to the police.
But Abdullahi said he had no part in the violence and was only in the area to video the protests when the violence began at the AutoZone store.
Credit: Tech Crunch