Judge Grants Search Warrant Demanding Info On Everyone Who Searched For A Certain Person's Name

from the way-to-act-as-a-check-against-gov't-abuse dept

The standard for warrants is probable cause. The warrant obtained by Edina, MN police doesn't even approach reasonable suspicion. In its attempt to locate the person behind a fraudulent bank transfer, the Edina police have asked Google to bring them everyone, as public records enthusiast Tony Webster reports.

A Minnesota bank received a call in January from who they thought was Douglas, their customer, asking to wire transfer $28,500 from a line of credit to another bank. To verify the transaction, the bank relied on a faxed copy of his passport. But it wasn’t him, the passport was fake, and the transfer request was fraudulent.

The Edina Police Department figured out that while searching Google Images for the victim’s name, they found the photo used on the fake passport, and investigators couldn’t find it on Yahoo or Bing. So, they theorized the suspect must have searched Google for the victim’s name while making the fake passport.

Edina Police Detective David Lindman detailed this theory in an application for a search warrant filed in early February, asking the Court to authorize a search warrant for names, email addresses, account information, and IP addresses of anyone who searched variations of the victim’s name over a five-week period of time.

Supposedly, the warrant [PDF] limits Google's search for searches to the Edina area, but that puts Google in the position of determining who was located where when these searches were made. Not that Google is likely to fulfill this request, warrant or not. There's nothing approaching probable cause in the warrant -- just the minimum of "detective" work that failed to uncover similar images in response to search terms at Yahoo and Bing.

Incredibly, this isn't the Edina PD's first attempt to obtain search results and the identifying information associated with them. In the warrant, Detective David Lindman notes he'd already served Google with an administrative subpoena, which Google rejected because it demanded content rather than transaction records.

Detective Lindman apparently feels Google's rejection was BS.

Though Google Inc.'s rejection of this administrative subpoena is arguable, your affiant is applying for this search warrant so that the investigation of this case does not stall.

I'm guessing Google's not going to be sending anything in response to this warrant, either. This is likely to be challenged by the company. If it isn't, anything turned over to the Edina PD will be highly suspect in terms of admissible evidence. There's no probable cause contained in the warrant application -- only the theory that any information obtained might help the investigation move forward.

Will this lead to Edina officers raiding homes because someone searched for the name "Douglas [REDACTED]" during the specified time period? Quite possibly. It obviously won't take much effort to get those warrants signed, not if judges are willing to turn law enforcement wishes into reality, without asking for anything (like actual probable cause) in return.


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:56am

    The funny part is, that information is probably included with all of the data Google sells to advertisers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:29pm

      Re:

      That's not actually how Google works. It doesn't sell info to advertisers. It will just put ads on pages based on profiles. It doesn't provide data back to advertisers like that. It's fun to attack Google as being a corporate giant and which knows all/sees all. But let's not get carried away with falsehoods.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:35pm

      Re:

      Common misconception, but Google doesn't sell its data to third parties. What it sells is ad services that harnesses that data in house. If you call Google up and ask to pay for a subset the data it uses for advertising and ad services, they'll tell you to pound sand. That's fundamentally different than most other companies that do sell the raw data to third parties.

      Doesn't excuse Google for being creepy, it is. But it doesn't sell anything but ad services to 3rd parties.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:46pm

        Re: Re:

        Go try this..
        Go shop[ping on Amazon and newegg, Select a few items to View..
        Goto Face book, WATCH THE ADVERTS..
        they will be the items you looked at..

        Here is the trick..
        GOOGLe dont store it..ITS(mostly) ON YOUR COMPUTER, there is a small Bot that reads the file..

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 10:59am

    "Wait! Now I can subpoena people who just SEARCH for my name? Game on!"

    -James Woods

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 11:09am

    To protect myself from fraud I'm changing my name to Roger User-agent Disallow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 11:24am

    What are the odds that they are looking for an excuse to swat that cafe with public WiFithat refused to give them free donuts?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      Those donuts are probably guilty of something. Asset forfeiture should get them all the free donuts they want, if not the whole donut shop itself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Michael, 20 Mar 2017 @ 10:33am

        Re: Re:

        Donuts have holes. Holes are where leaks come from. Leaks are bad.

        They can probably get a warrant with that connection, no?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2017 @ 11:28am

    A Minnesota bank received a call in January from who they thought was Douglas,

    So, wouldn't they be better off subpoenaing the phone company to show who called the bank and/or who sent the fax? Yes, it might be a prepaid/anonymous phone, but it might not. Regardless of whether it is, it's a much more defensible use of subpoena power (Third Party Doctrine, etc.) than the warrant sought, particularly since the bank would likely be happy to sign any approvals/waivers that the telephone company might need to release that information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:00pm

    Which way to Mountain View?

    Supposedly, the warrant [PDF] limits Google's search for searches to the Edina area, but that puts Google in the position of determining who was located where when these searches were made.

    The phrase "located in city or township of Edina, County of Hennepin, State of Minnesota" comes immediately after Google's Mountain View address. That phrase is boilerplate indicated that the target of the warrant is supposed to be located in Edina, as a judge in Hennepin County District Court can't issue search warrants to be executed outside of that jurisdiction.

    However, at the end of the application, it states, "Google Inc. accepts and recognizes search warrants from Hennepin County District Court." In other words, Google apparently doesn't intend to object to what otherwise would be a lack of jurisdiction.

    Of course, the alternative reading is that the officer believes Mountain View, California is located in Edina.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TripMN, 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:11pm

    Everyone in Edina is now a suspect

    Edina is one of the wealthy and one of the more out of touch with reality suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, or was when I used to live there. I didn't realize that their police officers were as out of touch with reality as most of the residents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thad, 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:28pm

    If you don't already, it's probably a good idea to switch to a search engine that doesn't keep any tracking data.

    I use DuckDuckGo, but there are other options out there too; feel free to share.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:36pm

    I wonder if this warrant remains and they find out the 100k people that searched for the name because some news on the person was out and then they start indiscriminately raiding, I don't know, thousands of homes.. I wonder if this will make people stop listening to megalomaniac police wishes and start demanding law enforcement reined in...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 12:57pm

    Wonderful idea..

    1. use a clean computer..reset all the Google bots..
    2. Do the persons, search..
    3. goto FACEBOOK..look up the persons name..TO MANY people put up Pictures of EVERYTHING..
    4. trace the transfer..it BANK TO BANK..
    most banks dont send anything unless its to Another bank..
    It WONT be international..
    requirements to RECEIVE a credit transfer? PERSONAL ID..and allot of cameras..
    5. there is a HOLD over time for transfers..to Make sure there is MONEY..depends on bank.
    6. CROSS STATE LINES?? ITS FEDERAL.. A federal insured bank? ITS FEDERAL..

    Sounds like these folks didnt do any do-diligence..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpaceLifeForm, 17 Mar 2017 @ 1:00pm

    LE 'theories'

    Like the FBI with Apple,
    attempting to set precedent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ShadowNinja (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 1:18pm

    The ricin false arrest makes this even scarier

    The earlier ricin false arrest on such flimsy evidence a few years ago makes this ruling even scarier.

    For those don't know/forgot, a summary of the ricin issue.

    • Someone sent letters laced with ricin to several prominent politicians, including a US senator, and President Obama, as well as at least one judge.

    • The letters were signed 3 initials.

    • Law enforcement asked the US senator who he knew with those initials who might have done this. The Senator said he only knew of one guy with those initials, a famous Elvis impersonator in his state who performed at a few of his personal events (including his wedding).

    • Based solely on that 'evidence' from the senator, and some quick finding of the Elvis impersonator having a few mental health issues over the years, the police arrested the Elvis impersonator for the crime.

    • Within a week the police were forced to let the Elvis impersonator go when they did more investigation, and found the guy who actually did it, who had signed the letter with a different set of initials than his own in order to throw off the cops and frame someone else.

    So yeah, in that case literally anyone with those same initials could have been thrown in jail if the US senator had thought of them and brought them to the police's attention.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 17 Mar 2017 @ 2:54pm

      Re: The ricin false arrest makes this even scarier

      There was more evidence than the three initials. The guy who sent the ricin letters was specifically trying to frame the Elvis impersonator.

      The two conspiracy theorists had a long crazy back-story, having become acquainted because of a severed head.

      It's kind of the opposite of scary: Despite someone being framed, police found the truth inside of a week.

      I'd argue that with ricin involved, the police couldn't just wait for a more solid case. But even after the arrest they kept investigating. No tunnel vision, no confirmation bias, and it led to a different conclusion. That's impressive.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2017 @ 1:22pm

    Tens of thousands of rape kits lie untested in police stations across the country. No time, no funds, and no will to do the right thing and test them. But what takes precedence over one of the top two heinous crimes imaginable? The theft of someone's money, which is more than likely insured, anyway. Unnamed dude isn't out a single cent. The bank isn't out a single cent. So an unconstitutional dragnet is required to find the perps so some insurance company isn't on the hook. What a wonderful use of a department's resources.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Mar 2017 @ 2:23am

    "So, they theorized the suspect must have searched Google for the victim’s name while making the fake passport"

    Or, alternatively, they could have used whichever site the image originated upon without using Google at all. A site which seems suspiciously absent from any mention here at all. If the victim was known to be a user of, say, LinkedIn or the perpetrator otherwise knew the victim's browsing habits, then no Google required. Just because the police couldn't find the photo in another search engine, that doesn't mean the fraudster used a search engine.

    Also, if they're depending on a fax for the transfer, what are the results of the phone company's investigation into the phone number used and the warrant issued to them? What about the result of the investigation into the destination account? Surely, they didn't just go straight to Google?

    "Supposedly, the warrant [PDF] limits Google's search for searches to the Edina area, but that puts Google in the position of determining who was located where when these searches were made."

    ...or places the blame on Google when they later find that the guy used a VPN or other method of obscuring his location. Sometimes criminals like this are dumb enough to leave an obvious trail, but if this one wasn't then they have a dead end, but lots of innocent people to try trawling.

    "asking the Court to authorize a search warrant for names, email addresses, account information, and IP addresses of anyone who searched variations of the victim’s name over a five-week period of time."

    ...and the chances of Google having any of this information directly to hand apart from perhaps the IP address (assuming that wasn't spoofed or otherwise obfuscated)?

    There may well be more to this story, but on the face of it, this is either lazy policing - a case of "we think X happened so we won't bother investigating alternative possibilities" - or an admission they have no other leads than Google happening to have a better image crawler than their competitors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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