Can Police Use Google Search History to Identify Suspects?

 Posted on May 16,2023 in Criminal Defense

Hartford Criminal LawyerSearch engines and other online tools have become essential in many people's lives. Being able to quickly and easily look up information or get directions allows people to complete multiple types of daily tasks while at home, at work, or anywhere else. However, this easy access to information comes with a cost. The searches people perform and the other ways they use websites and apps leave behind a digital trail that could be used to track their movements and activities. In some cases, this information may be accessed by law enforcement and used as evidence in a criminal case. Privacy and criminal justice advocates are challenging these practices, and a case that is currently being heard by the Colorado Supreme Court may play a significant role in how Google search information may be accessed and used by law enforcement.

Colorado Supreme Court Addresses Reverse Keyword Search Warrants

In August of 2020, five people were killed in a house fire in the Denver area that was allegedly started by three teenagers. As police officers investigated the incident, they were unable to identify the suspects until they issued a search warrant to Google. This warrant required Google to turn over information about anyone who searched for the street address of the home in question within 15 days before the fire. The search turned up several accounts and eventually led to the identification of the suspects, who were charged with first-degree murder, arson, and other offenses.

One of the defendants has challenged this search, claiming that it violated their Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, as well as the right to free speech. While the judge in the case allowed the use of this evidence, this decision has been appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

When arguing before the court, the defendant's attorney claimed that the warrant was overly broad and violated the privacy rights of the defendant and numerous other people. Since the warrant required Google to look at every search query performed during a specific time period and narrow down the results to those that may have been related to the offense in question, millions of people's search histories may have been reviewed. The prosecution countered by claiming that the search was narrow and limited, and investigators only reviewed search records that were relevant to the case.

The arguments made to the court referenced another important case that took place in Colorado in 2022. In that case, a bookstore refused to turn over a customer's purchase records to police officers who were investigating a person who was suspected of manufacturing methamphetamines. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the search warrant issued to the bookstore was invalid because it violated people's First Amendment rights to seek out information. In the current case, the defense is arguing that the same standard should apply to Google searches, and people should be able to anonymously look up information without fear that they could face criminal consequences for doing so.

Contact Our Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer

While the decision in this case will primarily affect people in Colorado, it could have an impact on other criminal cases throughout the United States. A court ruling finding that people have the right to privacy when performing Google searches may limit the ability of law enforcement to issue broad search warrants and access large quantities of information about people's online activities. On the other hand, a ruling in favor of the prosecution could allow these types of searches to continue, which may affect the privacy rights of criminal defendants and others.

At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we understand the complex issues related to digital evidence in criminal cases. We work to provide strong, effective representation for people who have been charged with crimes, ensuring that they can address evidence related to online searches, cell phone location information, or other data that may be accessed by law enforcement. To learn more about how we can help defendants protect their Constitutional rights, contact our Hartford criminal defense attorney at 860-290-8690 and set up a free consultation.



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