Google report: Cops ask for a lot of location data and we comply
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Google report: Cops ask for a lot of location data and we comply

Google has released a report on the number of geofence warrants it receives by the federal government, US states and the District of Columbia. The numbers show a terrifying but not shocking increase in the number of requests it receives.

In the distributed “Supplemental Information on Geofence Warrants in the United States” PDF, Google says “These so-called ‘geofence’ warrants are one subcategory of the total search warrant requests we share in our User Data Requests Transparency Report” meaning that the 20,932 geofence warrants Google has received are just a small fraction of the more than 144,828 requests for user information received in the same time period between 2018 and 2020. (Google has not released general numbers for the second half of 2020 but includes that time period in its geofence report.)

A geofence warrant allows law enforcement agencies to request a list of cell phones that were in a specified area in a given time range. Google, even though it’s not a cell phone provider, tracks and stores much of this data in a massive system called Sensorvault.

Google will then return semi-anonymized information of anyone in that area – whether you are suspected of a crime or not! Police can then choose a series of accounts to learn more information about.

Turning off location history

You can choose to have Google stop remembering your location history – including places you go and places you search. To do so, go to the Data & personalization section of your Google account settings. Under “Activity Controls” click Location History, then turn the slider to off. You may want to use the Auto-delete function to remove your old location data from Google as well.

Location History
A switch that is turned off

Saves where you go with your devices, even when you aren't using a specific Google service, to give you personalized maps, recommendations, based on places you've visited, and more. Learn more (link)

Auto-delete (Not applicable)
You have no activity to delete. Turn on Location History to choose and auto-delete option.
Screenshot of the Google Location History toggle

The Data

Below is a table of each state, DC and federal requests for the years 2018-2020 as provided by Google. Of significance, every state made at least one request in both 2019 and 2020, and in 2019 every state made more requests than in 2019.

The majority of decreases in states from 2019 to 2020 were where there was a small number of requests to begin with: for example, Hawaii fell from 2 to 1 and Rhode Island from 9 to 8, making them pretty statistically insignificant.

Jurisdiction201820192020
All Federal41366521
Alabama27246346
Alaska265
Arizona34174243
Arkansas20123228
California2091,5371,909
Colorado27164308
Connecticut03436
Delaware0514
DC01117
Florida81626811
Georgia12343584
Hawaii021
Idaho02853
Illinois11202486
Indiana9181155
Iowa74682
Kansas243755
Kentucky13689
Louisiana514072
Maine011
Maryland21239383
Massachusetts374163
Michigan35448478
Minnesota22207173
Mississippi051171
Missouri652118
Montana21740
Nebraska22346
Nevada15129169
New Hampshire32442
New Jersey19115173
New Mexico31241
New York50172265
North Carolina50197251
North Dakota01655
Ohio7186400
Oklahoma34057
Oregon264100
Pennsylvania7139262
Rhode Island098
South Carolina7172176
South Dakota11317
Tennessee18095
Texas97904824
Utah13263
Vermont11917
Virginia72304484
Washington11118196
West Virginia0711
Wisconsin31214250
Wyoming01110
Totals9828,39611,554