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FBI’s Use of Google Data About January 6 Is Concerning

We witnessed an extraordinary initiative by the federal government target the people who were in the Capitol on Jan. 6 with the FBI conducting an investigation into hundreds of people and employing a variety of methods to detain them. In addition, the FBI have informants involved and assisting, and they also used some unique techniques.

The most effective tactic they employed in their vast investigation was “biggest-ever haul of phones from controversial geofence warrants, court records show.”

According to a report on one January 6 case, Google disclosed information to the FBI regarding 5,723 mobiles found within or near the Capitol during the riots. Geofence warrants permitted them to access anyone who was in the area with digital services. There were not many people in the Capitol. Around 900 people have been arrested. These warrants are reportedly targeting people who hadn't visited the facility. They could have gathered information about dissidents and/or random individuals walking around the neighborhood.

“We have a rigorous process for geofence warrants that is designed to protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” Google declared. “When Google receives legal demands, we scrutinize them carefully to determine their legality and constitutional concerns, including overbreadth. as per the latest cases. If a request requires excessive details, we try to reduce it. We frequently deny excessive demands, like geofence requirements that are overbroad in certain cases. In other instances we are against providing any information whatsoever.”

If it seems to you like it's overbroad, then that's exactly what it is to lawyers for one defendant, David Rhine, as well.

Rhine was initially reported to the FBI through tipsters who received information that he was in the Capitol. However, the FBI only recognized Rhine in surveillance footage after they had matched it with the exact geofence coordinates on his cell phone. His lawyer is currently seeking to have the evidence of a geofence thrown out for a variety of reasons such as that it was too wide in the people it rounded up, and Rhine was entitled to a constitutional expectation of privacy with regard to his Google information.

“The government enlisted Google to search untold millions of unknown accounts in a massive fishing expedition,” lawyers have written. “Just one or two lines of Location History can identify individuals … involved in protected and personal actions (such using their right under the First Amendment). In the end, a warrant for geofence almost always involves intrusions into the constitutionally protected zones.”

It was hilarious to see people from the left cheering this up on social media as if “overbreadth” was good because it was relevant to the month of Jan. 6. However, at least one law professor recognizes that this isn't an issue related to Jan. 6.

Andrew Ferguson, a professor of law at American University, agrees. “And that worries me because the January 6 cases are going to be used to build a doctrine that will essentially enable police to find almost anyone with a cellphone or a smart device in ways that we, as a society, haven't quite grasped yet,” Ferguson states. “That is going to undermine the work of journalists, it's going to undermine political dissenters, and it's going to harm women who are trying to get abortion services.”

No kidding. And it went much beyond the above as Professor. Margot Cleveland observes, specifically looking for information about people completely outside the Capitol as per the footnote to the Rhine motion to block.

What is the basis for arresting people who are not in the building without further investigation? The idea of a wide dragnet is a blatant violation of constitutional rights. This is happening with regards to Jan.6 for those who aren't present in the building. But in the meantime, they did not seem to be able to discern the leadership of the people who were threatening their way through the Portland federal courthouse on a night and day for months. It's funny how we continue to see these divergences.

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