The Biden administration secretly instructed Google to unmask Americans who were searching for specific phrases that were of interest to the US government, according to recently unsealed court records.
Biden’s DOJ used controversial “keyboard warrants” to order Google to collect the private information of individuals who searched for specified phrases.
According to a Forbes report, the Justice Department inadvertently unsealed the documents in September (which were quickly re-sealed.)
The first instance of this Orwellian breach of privacy occurred in 2019, when federal agents were on the lookout for males suspected of sex-trafficking a kid. The juvenile went missing, then reappeared a year later, claiming to have been kidnapped and raped, according to a search request. Investigators demanded that Google divulge the IP addresses of anyone who looked for the minor’s name on the internet. The tech behemoth promptly gave agents with the names and addresses of anybody who conducted those searches.
Zerohedge.com reports: There have been other rare examples of so-called keyword warrants, such as in 2020 when police asked Google if anyone searched for the address of an arson victim in the government’s racketeering case against singer R Kelly. Then in 2017, a Minnesota judge requested Google to provide information on anyone who searched for a fraud victim’s name.
Forbes also added this update post-publication:
After publication, Jennifer Lynch, surveillance litigation director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), highlighted three other Google keyword warrants that were used in the investigation into serial Austin bombings in 2018, which resulted in the deaths of two people.
Not widely discussed at the time, the orders appear even broader than the one above, asking for IP addresses and Google account information of individuals who searched for various addresses and some terms associated with bomb making, such as “low explosives” and “pipe bomb.” Similar orders were served on Microsoft and Yahoo for their respective search engines.
As for what data the tech companies gave to investigators, that information remains under seal.
Every year, Google responds to thousands of warrant orders, but the latest keyword warrant is an entirely new strategy by government investigators and is becoming increasingly controversial.
“Trawling through Google’s search history database enables police to identify people merely based on what they might have been thinking about, for whatever reason, at some point in the past,” Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Forbes. “This never-before-possible technique threatens First Amendment interests and will inevitably sweep up innocent people, especially if the keyword terms are not unique and the time frame not precise. To make matters worse, police are currently doing this in secret, which insulates the practice from public debate and regulation,” she added.
Google responded news about secret keyword warrants and defended its decision:
“As with all law enforcement requests, we have a rigorous process that is designed to protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” a Google spokesperson said.
Court records reviewed by Forbes show Google has given away data on people who searched for specific keywords, which is more evidence the US is transforming into an authoritarian state of monitoring and surveillance of online activities just like China’s.