Revealed in part by what is known as a keyword warrant. According to explosive allegations made against the government this week, it turns out that the Americans are once again spying on their own people without their knowledge. A series of explosive documents published this week revealed the existence of keyword warrants used by the general government; the Department of Homeland Security, and at least 3 other major governmental agencies.
Much of the reported keyword warrants aren’t actually public. According to Forbes (paywall alert), only a handful of such warrants have been made available to the public. It appears according to officials that many of the warrants further emerged after the 2018 Texas bombing perpetrated by one Mark Anthony Conditt.
Most recently, the warrants were used it looks like in 2019. In that instance, the feds demanded via a court order that Google hand over information about search terms believed to have been typed into devices by men who kidnapped a girl in Wisconsin. While these cases may seem obvious and of merit that the government needs to know about — many of the other instances are still under seal as it appears the original order was unsealed by accident.
In another instance, the feds demanded information from Google on anyone who searched the name (we won’t publish that name here) of an individual believed to have been a victim involved in the case that brought down R. Kelly.
Privacy advocates are already calling foul and for good reason. In America, Americans are protected under the fourth amendment from unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, although it isn’t always followed which is a violation of the law, the government cannot simply go on a fishing expedition without good enough reason to suspect someone or something of a wider crime. Civil liberties groups have already threatened to take the government to court in an effort to stop such warrants from ever happening again on this wide of a scale.
Many of the complaints surround the idea that some of the warrants are still private. With the accidental leak many are questioning would the government have ever actually been honest about such warrants or would they have been confidential indefinitely.
Here’s how they work according to what we could confirm this afternoon:
A federal agent or investigator has to first apply to a court for a formal warrant (these cannot be executed without a warrant.)
A judge then decides to either sign off or reject the warrant. If approved, said investigator can then turn to search giants like Google and Yahoo for example demanding information.
*The problem* is that these warrants do not appear to be limited in scope according to information reviewed by The Daily News (when they should be.) Instead of seeking limited information about a potential suspect or suspects, the government is then able to use said warrant to obtain vast amounts of information lending usefulness to their quest to compile a laundry list of names they suspect have done something wrong (even if in some cases their internet searches were entirely innocent.)
What can they demand to see from Google and the like:
According to reports, the government can and has demanded to see information; account information, and IP information for people who have:
- Searched particular addresses or names
- Names of fraud victims and or sexual assault victims
- Terms related to weapons or explosives
- The rest remains under seal by government order and it is unknown at this time how far this scope actually goes.