'Because nearly everyone carries a tracking device on their person these days, it's become a whole lot easier for the government to find out where everybody's been. It's TinEye but for people, and it appears to be a new go-to tool for law enforcement. What used to be officers canvassing the area where a crime took place is now a warrant sent to Google to obtain location data and identifying info for all people and devices in the area.
These so-called "reverse warrants" first started coming to light earlier this year. The Raleigh Police Department (NC) was serving warrants to Google in hopes of figuring out who to suspect of committing crimes, rather than having a suspect in mind and working forward from there. The warrants were of the "general" variety, guaranteed to give the RPD location/identifying info of hundreds of non-suspects who just happened to be in the area. There's some evidence Google has pushed back against these warrants, but it hasn't been enough to deter law enforcement from continuing to use Google as one-stop shopping to bulk location/identifying info.
This practice isn't limited to the local boys. Thomas Brewster of Forbes has obtained a warrant [PDF] showing the FBI is doing the same thing.
The most recent order on Google, unearthed by Forbes earlier this week, came from the FBI in Henrico, Virginia. They went to Google after four separate robberies in which unidentified, armed individuals entered and stole from the same Dollar Tree store between March and September this year. The manager of the Dollar Tree was also robbed at gunpoint while dropping off money at a Wells Fargo night-deposit box located just down the road from the store.
The warrant asks for location histories held by Google for anyone within three separate areas—including regions around the Dollar Tree store and the Wells Fargo address—during the times and days the five robberies took place. The FBI also wanted identifying information of Google account holders in those areas, two of which had a 375-meter radius. The other had a 300-meter radius.
Since Dollar Tree stores are never found thousands of feet away from other businesses and residences, the information demanded of Google would include hundreds or thousands of innocent people who live or work near the targeted store.'
Read more: Feds Also Using 'Reverse Warrants' To Gather Location/Identifying Info On Thousands Of Non-Suspects