The U.S. government has ordered Google – Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) – on at least six occasions to provide the data of those who have used certain words in its search engine. The orders are referred to as “keyword search orders” and they are mostly related to criminal activities online.
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Keyword Search Orders
As reported by Forbes, this is a practice the U.S. government has carried out on at least six occasions since 2017. The revelations come after the media outlet had accessed one of these orders concerning trafficking and sexual abuse cases that took place in Wisconsin in 2019.
Authorities ordered Google to provide the Google account, IP, and Cookie ID of those who had searched for more than sixteen days throughout the year, for the name of the victim or their mother, as well as their address.
Google responded to the order in 2020, but court documents known by Forbes do not specify what data was included in the company’s response.
This is not the first time that the government has issued this type of “keyword search order” as in 2017, as part of an investigation for a crime of fraud in Minnesota, Google was asked to provide the name of any citizen of Edina –where the fraud had taken place– to look for the name of the victim.
In a third case in 2020, the subject of the searches was a victim of a fire and also a witness in a blackmail case. The same year another keyword search order took place in California covering six search terms on four different dates, with no further details.
Austin Attacks In 2018
In March 2018, a wave of bomb attacks took place in Austin, Texas, causing two deaths and several injuries. During the investigation, the federal government urged Google, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Yahoo to hand over data on anyone searching for bomb-related terms such as "low explosives" and "tube bomb."
The investigation came to an end when the suspect committed suicide with a bomb the same month after being cornered by the police.
Jennifer Granick, surveillance and cybersecurity advisor for the American Civil Liberties Union, stated: “This never-before-seen technique threatens First Amendment interests and will inevitably drag innocent people away, especially if the keyword terms are not they are unique and the time frame is not precise.”
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