Google Data Turned an Innocent Bike Rider Into A Burglary Suspect

by AmericasKeepersAdmin on March 07, 2020

Zachary McCoy received a startling email in January from Google’s legal investigations support team informing him that local police wanted more information about his Google account.

As Zachary McCoy was getting ready to head into work he received the email notifying him that he had seven days to go to court to block the release of his Google data to local authorities.

McCoy owns an Android phone that he utilizes to access a variety of Google products including YouTube and Gmail. He is not alone, millions of Americans utilize Google products on their smartphones via a variety of apps.

In the email McCoy received from Google he also got a case number. When he googled the case number he was able to find out that the investigation was related to a burglary that occurred ten months prior.


Being an avid bike rider he used an exercise app to track his miles. When he went back into the app to look up the date of the alleged burglary he was able to find that his route on that particular day passed the victim’s home three times. It was no surprise that he passed the home three times considering he lived less than a mile from there. However he had never been in the victim’s home and did not know the victim personally.

McCoy hired a lawyer who after doing some digging around was able to discover that the email he received had been prompted by a geofence warrant which is a police surveillance tool that gives a virtual dragnet over crimes scenes providing information about Google location data from anyone who was in the area at the time.

These types of warrants have been increasing over the past two years. They are used by police when they have no leads to help them look for potential suspects. People whose data is being evaluated usually have no knowledge of this being done.

The data that is collected in the first batch does not provide any identifying information, but if the police find suspicious activity they are able ask Google for information about the individuals.

There are concerns that these types of warrants violate individuals’ rights under protection from unreasonable searches. The fact that police can gain access to our information just by being in a certain location feels like an invasion of privacy. Any phone that has location services turned on is subject to having their information viewed by law enforcement

Ultimately, McCoy was cleared and no longer considered a suspect but one key question remains…

Are geofence warrants a great tool for police or are they an overreaching invasion of privacy?

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