The issue with geofence warrants

On Behalf of | Nov 12, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Technology can be both a force for progress and a reason for concern. Privacy concerns in this new digital connectivity age can be troubling for Alabama residents.

One area of special concern lately is the concept of a geofence warrant. A geofence warrant allows the police to ask Google for a list of connected devices in the general area where a crime was committed. The police are then allowed to comb through that data to locate suspects. But this practice operates in a gray area in criminal law.

How geofence warrants are fundamentally different than other warrants

For nearly every type of warrant issued to police, the police identify a suspect believed to have possibly committed a crime. The police then present probable cause, and the court signs off on a warrant.

In a geofence warrant, no specific person is identified. Instead, the police have evidence of a crime being committed in an area, and then have a belief that Google might have data linking the theoretical criminal to that area at the time of the crime.

But in practice, this allows the police special access to the data of many completely innocent people. Oftentimes, a crime was committed in a heavily trafficked or densely populated area, so this could be thousands of records.

Your options in dealing with geofence warrants

Geofence warrants are a relatively new practice. As such, the higher courts haven’t made any definitive rulings, and are unlikely to do so in the near future. While you may be able to contest this evidence, there aren’t currently any strong rulings setting precedent against them.

For the present, your best option may be to try to remove yourself from Google’s location tracking services. Google products allow you to “opt out” of Google’s tracking in the settings of these applications.

A geofence warrant allows the police to request location data from everyone using a Google device or application within a broad geographical vicinity. These warrants are dubious but currently legal, and it may be wise to opt out of Google location tracking.