The Scary Way Lawmakers Want To Use Google

Following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, it's becoming clear how some lawmakers could use Google in scary ways.

By Joseph Farago | Published

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The internet is undeniably helpful and resourceful. But in the internet age comes new fears surrounding security and privacy. It’s well-known that media platforms like Facebook have been used to procure personal data for specific political motives. With the recent Roe V. Wade ruling, prosecutors may use Google to file litigation against those who infringe upon their state’s abortion laws.

Investigators in the 21st century have been known to use Google data to their advantage. Using specific searches, or the times at which someone was using a search engine, can help implicate a person or provide evidence of where they were at a given time. As Roe V. Wade was recently overturned, many took to online platforms to detail how the internet could implicate an abortion seeker. Since Google has had a history of being used as evidence, many pro-choice advocates are afraid of the tech company selling user data for its own financial benefit.

According to prior court cases, Google has an alarming way of identifying where a person is through its platform. Court testimony from a previous case indicated that someone using Google on their phone with their location-enabled could be an alarming tracking device. While searching, the tech company logs where you are every two minutes. From there, Google can figure out your almost exact location within nine feet of accuracy. The tech company’s covert tracking services aren’t widely known, with many pro-choice advocates providing recent infographics to the public about many online platforms’ surveillance tactics.

The idea that law enforcement utilizes Google isn’t just speculation but widely confirmed. In the latter half of 2021, law enforcement sent Google thousands of subpoenas and search warrants to procure data as potential evidence. As the police get more knowledgeable about tech and the internet, more search warrants have pivoted to critical virtual searches. These warrants are divided into two separate categories: geofence warrants and keyword warrants. Geofence warrants are for receiving locational data from a person’s device within a specific timeframe. In contrast, keyword warrants collect data about every individual who has searched for a particular term or phrase.

Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer and director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, outlined how antithetical these practices are to American human liberties. Since Google holds unlimited data on people’s search history and location, law enforcement utilizing that resource isn’t currently defined as illicit. Cahn reiterated how hazardous this practice is for those seeking abortions in states deemed illegal. Law enforcement can file a warrant to determine if an individual was by or near an abortion clinic and indict them.

Cahn wants more specific rules to be applied to internet combing and keyword search warrants. He added that the government would never allow this type of data extraction in an analog context, but entering a keyword and finding every person who has ever searched it is apparently not a violation of the law. Currently, very few cases have contested the legality of enforcement using Google history as evidence. But as new problems arise for American surveillance culture, hopefully, the public will be more cognizant of how internet platforms record private data like location and search history.