For Immediate Release
S.T.O.P. Condemns Manhattan DA Reverse Search Warrant As ‘Digital Dragnet’
[NEW YORK, NY, 8/12/2019] -- Today, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), a New York-based privacy group, today condemned the Manhattan district attorney’s office for using a reverse search warrant to obtain information on all the cellphones in a geographic area, in what the group claims amounts to a “digital dragnet.” Unlike traditional search warrants, which target the data for a single phone or account, reverse search warrants sweep up information on all the individuals in a specific location (a block, or a neighborhood) at at a given time.
SEE: Manhattan DA Got Innocent People's Google Phone Data Through A 'Reverse Location' Search Warrant
“This news should be alarming any New Yorker who doesn’t want their cellphone to become a perpetual tracking device,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “When law enforcement can demand New Yorkers' private information based on our location, it transforms it’s nothing short of a digital dragnet. These searches could easily target anyone attending a political protest or living in an already over-policed block. A warrant this broad isn’t a warrant at all: it’s a license for a surveillance state.”
News of the reverse search warrant came in the ongoing trial of members of the white supremacist organization the far-right Proud Boys group. In the course of the trial, law enforcement officials revealed that they had used the highly unusual warrant to try to identify members of the group taking part in the October attack on the Upper East Side. Alarmingly, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office admitted that none of the individuals whose information was seized had, in fact, been members of the Proud Boys.
SEE:Far-Right Proud Boys Go on Trial, but Anti-Fascists Are Boycotting
Reverse cellphone warrants have been controversial since they were first reported on last year. Unlike traditional warrants, where law enforcement request information on a specific individual or organization, reverse warrants allow law enforcement to map out a defined geographic area or “geofence.” Google and other service providers then gives law enforcement the names of anyone in the geofence—which can be anything from an apartment to an entire city—during the specified time period. Unsurprisingly, the method has raised significantly privacy concerns and led to false arrests.
SEE: To Find suspects, police quietly turn too google.
Tracking Phones, Google Is a Dragnet for the Police https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/13/us/google-location-tracking-police.html
The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project STOP is a non-profit advocacy organization and legal services provider hosted by the Urban Justice Center. STOP litigates and advocates for privacy, fighting excessive local and state-level surveillance. Our work highlights the discriminatory impact of surveillance on Muslim Americans, immigrants, and communities of color.
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CONTACT: STOP Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn