Google disclosed the IP addresses of anyone who searched for an arson victim’s address to the federal agents, which investigators used to pinpoint the device used by the alleged perpetrator, according to court documents unsealed earlier in the week, highlighting another instance of Google submitting to a so-called “keyword warrant.”
Federal investigators used the data shared by Google to link Michael Williams— an associate of musician and accused sex offender R. Kelly — who allegedly set fire to the car belonging to a witness in the Kelly case, according to snippets of the court filings shared by Detroit News reporter Robert Snell.
“Keyword warrants” are a type of reverse search warrant in which law enforcement seeks data regarding all individuals searching for specific phrases online, that can then be used to narrow down suspects.
Typical search warrants require probable cause and are often associated with a suspect or an address, keyword warrants however give up data on a large group of data based on the fact that they may have searched for specific phrases.
CNET reports that after investigators were able to tie Williams to the arson through the keyword warrant, they sent Google another warrant specifically seeking data from the suspect’s account, and found that he had searched for phrases including “where can i buy a .50 custom machine gun,” “witness intimidation” and “countries that don’t have extradition with the United States.”
Evan Greer, the deputy director of the human rights group Fight for the Future, told Forbes, such warrants are “dragnet surveillance and it should be illegal. No one should be targeted by law enforcement