What Every Californian Should Know About a Geofence Warrant

What Every Californian Should Know About a Geofence Warrant

What Every Californian Should Know About a Geofence Warrant

The use of geofencing warrants by California law enforcers is becoming increasingly common with each passing day. If license plate reading technology, facial recognition software and smartphone GPS tracking were not enough, police are now using geofencing warrants to solve crimes. If you are a target of California law enforcement, there is a chance they will use geofencing warrants in an attempt to prove your alleged guilt.

An Explanation of Geofencing Warrants

Google has admitted it has informed individuals that police have requested data pertaining to the use of Google accounts. Sadly, the window of time available to respond to such a notice to oppose the release of the requested information is quite small. In most cases, targets of law enforcement typically have a week or less to oppose the data release. Police can request information from Google accounts in connection with supposed crimes such as burglaries that take place in the suspect’s vicinity. However, there is a chance the suspect in question had absolutely nothing to do with the burglary, making the review of his or her Google account information by California law enforcement quite unjust.

Police make the demand for access to a suspect’s Google account information in the context of a geofencing warrant. If you have not heard of this unique type of warrant, you are not alone. Sadly, California law enforcement is dramatically increasing the use of such warrants in their investigations. In short, geofencing warrants empower California law enforcers to compel tech businesses to provide records pertaining to a suspect’s location. Geofencing warrants are applicable to all devices used in specific geographical locations during a certain period of time. Geofencing warrants have largely been applicable to the data of Google users. However, this type of warrant has the potential to be applied to smartphones as well as GPS providers.

An Example of the use of Geofencing Warrants

Let’s take a look at an example of the use of geofencing warrants by California police to get a better sense of how this unique type of warrant supposedly helps law enforcement solve crimes. Consider a situation in which a robbery occurs on 300 Sixth Street at 5 p.m. on November 5th. California police can compel location records for all devices used in a square block of 300 Sixth Street between in the time range of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on November 5th. However, these records do not provide any information that identifies the users of those devices. On a surface level, the use of such a geofencing warrant seems reasonable.

However, if law enforcement receives the records, they can scan through the data for suspicious “hits” that trigger additional analysis. If a specific device user appears suspicious to law enforcement, police will revert back to the tech company and request access to that suspicious individual’s identifying information or information that empowers police to accurately identify the individual who was using the device in question on Sixth Street between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on November 5th. This is problematic as there is a good chance the individual under the microscope is innocent yet his personal privacy is violated by law enforcement. Simply being in close proximity to an unsolved crime should not open the door for law enforcement to play the role of an Orwellian Big Brother that tracks the whereabouts and activities of tech device users.

Geofence Warrant are Likely to Become That Much More Common

Geofence warrant are certainly unique yet they will likely be used that much more frequently in the years ahead. Conventional warrants identify suspects ahead of the warrant being issued. Alternatively, geofencing warrants are a comparably wide net that police cast to essentially work backwards, empowering them to collect data in previous days, weeks and months. As long as police can prove the use of such data helps solve crimes, geofencing warrants will likely be here to stay in California and beyond.

Stay tuned. There will be challenges to the constitutionality of the use of geofencing in the months and years ahead.