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.

Jurisdiction 2018 2019 2020
All Federal 41 366 521
Alabama 27 246 346
Alaska 2 6 5
Arizona 34 174 243
Arkansas 20 123 228
California 209 1,537 1,909
Colorado 27 164 308
Connecticut 0 34 36
Delaware 0 5 14
DC 0 11 17
Florida 81 626 811
Georgia 12 343 584
Hawaii 0 2 1
Idaho 0 28 53
Illinois 11 202 486
Indiana 9 181 155
Iowa 7 46 82
Kansas 24 37 55
Kentucky 1 36 89
Louisiana 5 140 72
Maine 0 1 1
Maryland 21 239 383
Massachusetts 3 74 163
Michigan 35 448 478
Minnesota 22 207 173
Mississippi 0 51 171
Missouri 6 52 118
Montana 2 17 40
Nebraska 2 23 46
Nevada 15 129 169
New Hampshire 3 24 42
New Jersey 19 115 173
New Mexico 3 12 41
New York 50 172 265
North Carolina 50 197 251
North Dakota 0 16 55
Ohio 7 186 400
Oklahoma 3 40 57
Oregon 2 64 100
Pennsylvania 7 139 262
Rhode Island 0 9 8
South Carolina 7 172 176
South Dakota 1 13 17
Tennessee 1 80 95
Texas 97 904 824
Utah 1 32 63
Vermont 1 19 17
Virginia 72 304 484
Washington 11 118 196
West Virginia 0 7 11
Wisconsin 31 214 250
Wyoming 0 11 10
Totals 982 8,396 11,554