Cops use Google to obtain data about mobile devices near crime scenes

Police in North Carolina are attempting to use tech “as a hack for their job” by obtaining warrants to force Google to hand over unique data from all mobile devices within acres of a crime scene.

WRAL out of Raleigh, North Carolina, reported on a recurring tactic that the cops there are employing: using Google as an investigative tool to reveal the identity of every mobile user within areas, which includes both homes and businesses. It’s happened at least four times.

When investigating crimes, Raleigh-Durham cops are not searching for phones that connected to a specific cell tower, but for phones that were within a specific geo-locational area. And that doesn’t imply a small area; during a homicide investigation, the cops asked Google to provide data for anyone within a 17-acre area. Another demanded Google hand over user data from the day of a shooting and the day before; the area defined in that warrant included “dozens” of apartment units near St. Augustine’s University.

The police are not just interested in Google handing over account IDs tied to Android devices; a Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman told WRAL that the area-based warrants also included “any device running location-enabled Google apps.” They got the idea after learning about a similar search warrant the State Bureau of Investigation obtained in Orange County.