back to article What's unconstitutional about Google keyword search warrants? Nothing, says Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that police can use Google search histories to identify suspects in criminal investigations, leading digital rights orgs to warn the ruling has broad privacy implications for anyone using search engines. The case, People v. Seymour, involved a 2020 act of arson that killed five people in a …

  1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Plausible deniability

    You can't find anything useful using Google search apart from corporate news feeds, propaganda and malware.

    So now you can just claim you typed in nonsense hoping to get lucky.

  2. Ideasource Bronze badge

    I can see this as a use for AI.

    Don't store the data instead feed it to an AI. Good enough for market statistics, but not submissible in court because AI doesn't know anything it just puts things together that sound good to it it's algorithm that may or may not prove to be true or false.

    1. Dimmer Silver badge


      I recently was asked to speak to a high school class about careers.

      I told them that they will never know privacy and I apologize to them.

      Seeing the perplexing look, I explained.

      Holding up my phone, I told them that my generation created the technology used by their parents generation to create it. We are the reason that you will never know what privacy is.

      My parents gen sent someone to the moon. My generation went from tubes to phones the size of watches.

      Now, What the hell is your generation going build?

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge

        Good thing I wasn't asked to speak..

        Sorry kids. WWIII in a few years I'm afraid. You're all toast.

        Only half-joking as well

  3. IGotOut Silver badge

    Don't use Google.

    Google pretend to have acted like the good guys by refusing to hand over the info ....

    But why were they storing this in the first place?

    Oh yeah. Money.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Don't use Google.

      Your point about Google and money stands far apart from the law enforcement aspect, this is the base function google use to build their advertising business - no storage no targeted advertising.

      The judges decided this was a proportional response to a specific event, specifically pointing to the relevant detail in this case which was the address involved. Eight results from a reverse google search does not convince me it's a fishing trip.

      Plod going on widespread fishing trips or without specific case details being looked for is still going to be thrown out, there will be a lot of courtroom time occupied with deciding what is actually proportionate and it'll probably end up as an arbitrary number. Ask for results if the hit count is below 'X' then fine otherwise try a better search term. Plod concatenating information from a bunch of very specific search terms will soon be added to the mix here.

      A big security problem for governments is self starting lone terrorists who just appear one day and cause mayhem for a few minutes/hours before being stopped.

      The legal requirement to keep historical search requests allows govt. spooks* to find people interested in terrorist activities - the first active step to becoming one. Eventually someone will end up ticking enough boxes that they'll get individual attention at a very low level, there are legitimate reasons including idle curiosity (currently) for being interested in such things. I have an interest in rocketry, solid rocket fuel is basically explosives with a slower burn rate and higher energy density than many simple 'meant to go bang' types, so where's the line?

      * apart from the spooks ability to vacuum up interweb activity directly at the ISP & backbone levels, having a pre built index of searches saves their time and effort.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't use Google.

        My wife is an author. Her search history includes an awful lot of stuff that, at first glance, would put her on a watch list. One story included a (fictional!) kidnapping of the girlfriend of a (fictional!) British royal. So of course she would need to know what the penalties for such a crime would be, international implications, how hard it would be to break a wooden chair you were handcuffed to, etc. Another involved the (again fictional!) very rapid destruction/erasure of the data in a datacenter, and we found some info on some small-but-powerful EMPs (which ended up not being used in the story).

        As you said, there are legitimate reasons for searching for such things.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Don't use Google.

        >Eventually someone will end up ticking enough boxes that they'll get individual attention

        And many of those boxes will be name=foreign, skin=brown. Alongside the same search terms about recent events

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Don't use Google.

        @Wellyboot, yes, agreed, this was about legal process, not Google and their monetisation of data.

        The bit that struck me as odd is

        "Google refused to hand over the data on the grounds that the warrant didn't comply with its privacy policy"

        I could understand Google looking for a legal loophole to refuse the warrant, but saying it "didn't comply with its privacy policy" is just, to my mind, a bit out there. Company policy never overrides the law, even for Google.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Don't use Google.

      Having access to your search history is a useful feature though, and it also improves the relevance of other search queries and gives better auto-completion. If you don't like the tradeoff, you can also turn off search history. Targeted advertising is one reason search history is tracked, but to suggest it's _the_ reason is just wrong.

  4. DS999 Silver badge

    If it is stored on someone else's computer it is easy to subpoena

    While they can get a search warrant and grab your computer, you can take measures like clearing your search history after you search for information on poisons and how to sink a body in a lake. But Google remembers everything, and there's no way to make them delete it. Even if they provide a way of "deleting" it you don't know if it is really deleted or they just hide it from you so it looks deleted.

    Even searching without logging in isn't good enough if you are really paranoid, as Google no doubt has enough ways to figure out who is who. Maybe buy a cheap PC, go a Starbucks out of town (or better yet a place next door to a Starbucks that's close enough to hop on its internet) conduct your searches, hack the CIA, or whatever it is you want to do on that public internet, then do a full wipe of the SSD and return the PC as "defective". Or just drop it off at your local recyclers. Plus take the usual precautions like paying for everything in cash, wearing a mask like its 2020 and cough a bit for effect so no one thinks you are wearing it to hide your identity, along with sunglasses (go on a sunny day so it isn't suspicious, which will take some planning ahead in the UK to find one of the nine sunny days) and just in case wipe it down for fingerprints before returning/recycling it though unless you are hacking the CIA that's probably overkill.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: If it is stored on someone else's computer it is easy to subpoena

      Don't forget the tall shoes, body suit & wig to change the way you appear to video search tools* and finding some way to acquire and use these without popping up on a random cloud based camera feed carrying any of the evidence.

      *These may be far better than the commercial ones available.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: If it is stored on someone else's computer it is easy to subpoena

        I saw it suggested that one might place a few Legos in one of their shoes to avoid detection of "how you walk" as it would cause a noticeably painful limp.

  5. EricB123 Silver badge

    I Promise I Won't Do This

    This sounds like a great way to get back at your enemies.

  6. simonb_london

    Privacy vs safety

    It it was possible to monitor every thought, word, movement of every person then think of all the crime that would be prevented. Or any undesirable behaviour or point of view. Or anything at all we don't like.

    1. Snake Silver badge

      Re: Privacy vs safety

      Toov late, PreCrime is already here

    2. nightflier

      Re: Privacy vs safety

      I envision a vindictive administration going after everyone who spoke up against its leader or voted against him.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Privacy vs safety

        China, North Korea, Russia...

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: China, North Korea, Russia...

          Don't forget Michigan & Florida, to start...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Privacy vs safety

          US, UK, most EU countries...

    3. rafff

      Re: Privacy vs safety

      "think of all the crime that would be prevented."

      That would be an economic disaster. This of all the locksmiths, lawyers, police, prison officers, court officials, buraucrats etc. who would be out of work. And the knock-on effect on the businesses that serve them.

      Not to mention all the smugglers. After all, it was the lowering of the tea tax that provoked the Boston Tea party; Smugglers *like* high taxes; they help to keep the smugglers in business.

  7. mpi Silver badge

    The lesson to be drawn from this:

    Don't use Google.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The lesson to be drawn from this:

      If you don't use Google, don't have a Facebook account and use Linux you are probably a terrorist.

  8. JavaJester

    Prohibitions against General Warrants Meaningless

    The US constitutional prohibition against general warrants is meaningless. As long as a piece of data can help an investigation, the warrant will be granted the volume of data be damned. A reverse keyword request that matches billions of people isn't even close to the standard of "particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized" as specified by the 4th amendment.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like