Federal agents served Google with a search warrant in November, asking for data that could help them solve a bank robbery outside of Milwaukee.
The armed robbery, which took place on Oct. 13, 2018, took just seven minutes, with the criminals making off with a bag full of cash, three drawers from the vault and teller station, and the keys to the bank vault, according to The Verge.
Law enforcement has had difficulty tracking down the robbers, as well as their driver, so they asked Google to track down their phones. In November, federal agents served the tech giant with a search warrant, asking for data that would identify any Google user who had been within 100 feet of the bank during a half-hour block of time around the crime. The technique would rely on the police to use the data to find the right suspects, and the court found it legal.
The warrant, known as a reverse location search, has become common in recent years, according to The Verge. More than 20 of these warrants have been served in Minnesota, and at least one similar case came up in North Carolina. The technique was also used last year to identify suspects after a Proud Boy rally-turned-riot in midtown Manhattan.
With police pulling the names of every individual in the vicinity when a crime took place, it’s no surprise that civil liberties groups have expressed their concerns over the technique, arguing that it goes against a Supreme Court precedent that treats location data as “an intimate window into a person’s life.”
They have also argued that the technique simply isn’t as successful as investigators hope. In the Wisconsin case, which police say is still ongoing, the bank robbers could have turned off Google Maps or just left their phones at home, so they wouldn’t even show up in the search.