Police Used a Geofence Warrant – Collect Info From a Fitness App

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Google Tracking Data Helps Cops Suspect Wrong Guy

Cristal M Clark 

Ever wonder how Google uses your tracked data? Ever wonder just how accurate it is? A Gainsville Florida man who used a fitness app to track his bike rides found out the hard way. Zachary McCoy had never thought he’d be a suspect in a burglary, why he’d never even been in the home where the burglary occurred.

Zachary did however, use the location settings on for the RunKeeper app and by doing so he unwittingly provided information about his whereabouts to Google, which then promptly placed him at the scene of the crime.

Zachary had biked past the house where the burglary took place 3 times on the day of the alleged crime which was part of his usual route through the neighborhood because of that he was deemed a suspect by the police. 

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Google’s legal investigations team contacted Zachary back in January, notifying him that the Gainesville, Florida police were demanding information from his Google account.

To get cleared Zachary had to actually hire a lawyer to help him figure out exactly what data police were seeking. That’s when he learned about the geofence warrant. The geofence warrant by the way is a type of search warrant required Google to provide data from devices it recorded near the scene of the burglary, including location. This data is usually drawn from Android location services which can be turned off from the “accounts” menu in settings.

Last month, Google announced it was putting new restrictions on which Android apps can track location in the background, meaning that all new Google Play apps that seek background access are subject to a review process, beginning in August.

In 2018 Jorge Molina, was accused in an Arizona homicide after police used a geofence warrant that “suggested” he was near the scene of the crime. The case against Molina eventually fell apart as new evidence came to light.

Law enforcement requests for geofence warrants have been on the rise, rising 1500 percent from 2017 to 2018 and another 500 percent between 2018 and 2019. 

Tracking data is great, until it’s used against you during a police investigation and you become a suspect. 

Cristal M Clark

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