by Tim Cushing
Techdirt. / 2017-03-17 13:33
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.e
ERFThe 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.