Law Enforcement Using "Reverse Warrants" to Track People in the Area of a Crime Using Cell Data

in surveillance •  7 months ago  (edited)

In a shocking twist to our Orwellian modern lives, the "authorities" can demand to know where anyone near a crime was thanks to what are called "reverse warrants". The technology we have become so accustomed to for convenience, is also a convenient way for us to be tracked as we take it everywhere with us. Our phones are with us from home to any travel destination, and they are the modern tracking device that we've all too willingly put on ourselves.

Made by @krnel from sources: pixabay, pixabay, pixabay

Authorities like local law enforcement can now canvas an area for suspects and witnesses without even going around to talk to people. Now, all that's required is a warrant which is sent to Google. In return the authorities get the location data for all devices in an area, thereby identifying everyone. This is the new era of "reverse warrants" as cops turn to location data, since most people have GPS location turned on in their phones for location-based search result and ads.

One of the first cases of it's use was earlier this year, when the Raleigh Police Department of North Carolina served warrants to Google in order to try to figure out who they could suspect of committing crimes. They didn't need to have a suspect in mind first in order to work from that base and obtain a warrant on them. Warrants came first, letting the RPD track anyone in the area to identify who they are and where they were.

The reverse warrant in North Carolina stated:

This location information is derived from GPS data, cell site/cell tower information, Bluetooth connection and Wi-Fi access points.

This applicant knows that location data can assist investigators in forming a fuller geospatial understanding and timeline related to a specific criminal investigation; and may tend to identify potential witnesses and/or suspects.

Google has now become a one-stop shop for bulk data collection and identification of the populace. Hundreds of non-suspects have been tracked as a result of these "reverse warrants". Anyone in the area is swept up in a search for a suspect. This is not how warrants are supposed to work. Search warrants are supposed to be obtained for specific suspects. Reverse warrants are simply base don proximity, not any specific evidence. Google has pushed back, but the government is not giving this gold mine up.

The State of North Carolina maintains that the information sought herein consists entirely of "record[s]" other than the "content of communications…" Such records, require only a showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe the information sought is relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation… Despite this, Google has indicated that it believes a search warrant, and not a court order, is required to obtain the location data sought in this application. Although the Government disagrees with Google's position, because there is probable cause to believe the information sought herein will contain evidence of the criminal offenses specified in this affidavit, the Government is seeking a search warrant in this case.

The RPD got a warrant that demanded data for a 17-acre area which included both homes and businesses. The FBI is now using this tactic after local police have successfully pulled it off. Forbes has obtained a reverse location search warrant on Google issued for the FBI in one case:

They went to Google after four separate robberies in which unidentified, armed individuals entered and stole from the same Dollar Tree store between March and September this year. The manager of the Dollar Tree was also robbed at gunpoint while dropping off money at a Wells Fargo night-deposit box located just down the road from the store.

The warrant asks for location histories held by Google for anyone within three separate areas—including regions around the Dollar Tree store and the Wells Fargo address—during the times and days the five robberies took place. The FBI also wanted identifying information of Google account holders in those areas, two of which had a 375-meter radius. The other had a 300-meter radius.

In this case, the documents obtained by Forbes show Google didn't hand over any data to the FBI. Google is pushing back on these broad data requests that are unsupported by probable cause the way normal warrants work.

You may think the police and Feds are going good. That this is the same as canvassing an area to get testimony from people and gather evidence from witnesses about potential suspects in a crime. But, there is a key difference in all of this: compulsory compliance. You are now known to have been in an area at a certain time, regardless of whether you want to be involved in talking about it to the authorities. Data on hundreds or thousands of non-suspects is being gathered. The FBI warrant also imposed a gag order, so that no one would know that the Feds wanted to know who they are or where they were.

This practice will certainly grow more popular by law enforcement across the country, until a court somewhere stands against it to stop it. We don't know how many times this has been tried, or how many of these "reverse warrants" have been approved. But we do know that Google has refused to comply in at least one case. Since there is little legal recourse applied to Google for refusing to comply with the demand for data access, it indicates law enforcement knows these "reverse warrants" aren't constitutional.


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Department stores have been doing this for some time now, tracking who is where in the store from the signals. We are complicit in their nosing into every facet of our lives the more we embrace and use their technologies. Similar to Fakebook. No one I know in life (family. acquaintances) will give it up like I did, despite their grumbling of censorship and selling our data. If everyone just put this stuff down they couldn't use it. I am guilty of using it too, but have cut myself from some of it and hope one day to be away from all of it.


Yeah, Google does it in stores for retail sales data to let advertisers know likelihood of online ads resulting in physical retail sales. Our lives are so dependent on technology as an extension of capabilities, that the cost is paid by may just to keep that extension alive.

So everything we are doing or saying is tracked and ringing the alarm bells. Sometimes I et concerned about wether to send a text to some friends, as we have WhatsApp groups where we are basically exposing the truth and talking about how we hate the system etc... sometimes I wonder if it rings any alarm bells as we know what’s really going on!


Yes, a lot of it is tracked by default. I don't even know what WhatsApp is really :P


It’s just a messaging app that’s probably government funded, or owned by snapchat that has the CIA facial recognition software installed and collecting our facial structure data whenever it’s used etc... so much breaches of our privacy going on!

I do not believe Boogle is "pushing back". That is only PR image keeping.
I am pretty sure that if one really looked into this, they would find Boogle making inroads into police departments telling them how to properly apply for warrants.

Now, what really frosts my cookies is that any "bad guy" will know to turn off their cellphones or leave them at home before they go perform a crime.

So, lets say a man grabbed some ladies purse.
Boogle request yields that there were 3 women and 1 man in the area.
So, that 1 man is picked up and arrested.
Although the perp didn't have a phone on him, that is not accounted for.
The police got a man, case closed.


Maybe it's a front, but the document says they refused in one case. It doesn't seem like they would care that much, but maybe they refuse because they know it's shady ground and are waiting for new laws to make it fully legal... And yes, criminals can just go without phones...


"...criminals can just go without phones..."

So can people that don't want to be tracked. I don't use Goolag, disable the software that does, don't get apps from them, etc... I don't take my phone with me when I leave the house without specific reason, don't enable GPS, don't use Chrome, all of that, and more.

In time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. -- George Orwell. Given the extant political system, refusing to be herded like cattle makes one akin to a criminal in the eyes of government. Since I know why cattle are herded, I am not amongst the herd.



Kudos, you have some dedication there :)

I’m just going to “reverse pay taxes” now.


Let's reverse everything and see where we end up ;)


I just reverse ate.

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  ·  7 months ago (edited)


Private data is not private anymore. This is worrying. Are we truly shifting to the world that was portrayed in ‘1984’ by George Orwell?

I have a friend who doesn’t even connect to the internet, no WhatsApp or Facebook. Just texts and calls.

I ask myself if I could live like that for just 12 hours...

Posted using Partiko iOS


That's thought for sure. I don't go on FB much at all, and I don't even know what WhatsApp really is... lol


WhatsApp is like Telegram

Posted using Partiko iOS


I don't know what Telegeram is either :P I'm not in the know on all the social media apps lol.

As long as one has nothing to do with a crime and or have nothing to hide, i dont see why the reverse warrant is a problem. If those committing crimes are being caught quickly, the society will fast become a place where one can sleep with both eyes closed. As for those that dont feel comfortable talking to the authorities about a crime they have witnessed, i guess they would like it if their home is attacked, and all witnesses who could help in bringing justice wouldn't feel comfortable and want to talk to the authorities about it. It is the duty of a citizen to help the authorities is bringing peace, justices, e.t.c. to the society they live


It can be useful to consider that information can be sought by authorities for other reasons than apprehending criminals, such as identifying people participating in protests. Worse yet, there are corrupt agencies and agents that use such powers to commit crimes.

In fact, it is such criminal corruption that prompted the founders of the USA to limit government via the Constitution as best they could, and it is those constitutional protections that seek to prevent government from being used as a tool by criminal gangs to prey on sovereign people that are being circumvented by these law enforcement agencies.

This is why innocent people need to protect themselves from surveillance, limit police and government power, and ensure constitutional limits on government power are maintained and even increased. Do a few searches for crimes committed by police, and you will find thousands and thousands of examples of police using their powers to rape, pimp, sell illegal drugs, murder, and rob innocent people.

When honest good people use lawful power to do good, everyone profits. Innocent people don't seek to use laws to commit crimes, and so find it difficult to imagine how they can be used to do evil. Bad people seek positions of power so they can do bad things. Government is force. 'Government is like fire, a fearful servant and a terrible master.'--George Washington.

Just like fire, make sure no bad things come from the government you control. Just like fire, if you let it get out of control, not just bad, but terrible things will happen.


An excellent response for the negative side of the issue. Thanks for the feedback.


Excellent, i never thought of the chance of bad people in power, what evil they could do with the acquired power. Thanks for the insight.


Some valid points made.

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