Three teenagers set fire to a home in Denver because they believed someone who stole a phone lived there. Five members of a family died.
The police had video from a neighbor’s house showing three people in hooded sweatshirts and masks near the home at the time of the fire. But for weeks they had no further evidence.
Then the police subpoenaed cell tower data to see who was in the area. They got 7,000 devices, which they narrowed down to exclude neighbors and any that did not match the movement of a vehicle that was observed. Only 33 devices remained.
Then they went to Google:
[A] warrant to Google asked for any searches for the destroyed house’s address anytime in the two weeks before the fire. Google provided five accounts that made that search — including three accounts with email addresses that included [the suspect’s names].Teen charged in deadly Denver arson told investigators he set fire over stolen phone, detective says
One of the defendants has filed a motion to suppress the Google search evidence, and the EFF has filed an amicus brief in support:
Should the police be able to ask Google for the name of everyone who searched for the address of an abortion provider in a state where abortions are now illegal? Or who searched for the drug mifepristone? What about people who searched for gender-affirming healthcare providers in a state that has equated such care with child abuse? Or everyone who searched for a dispensary in a state that has legalized cannabis but where the federal government still considers it illegal?EFF to File Amicus Brief in First U.S. Case Challenging Dragnet Keyword Warrant
Fascinating case. Some version of this feels destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.