Search warrants to access a suspect's search history aren't uncommon. Search warrants to access metadata from an entire cell tower are becoming more and more popular, too. What isn't common though, is a search warrant for the internet history of an entire town. While this sounds like something from the "what not to do" chapter in a law textbook, it is happening right now in the town of Edina, Minnesota.
A thief faxed in a fake passport to a credit union which allowed him to steal $28,500 out of a victim's bank account. Police were notified of the fraudulent transfer and discovered that the photo used on the passport could be accessed by searching Google Images for the victim's name. It doesn't show up in Yahoo or Bing searches, so police are hoping to use Google to help track down their thief.
The county judge agreed with the police and granted the warrant, which was then served to Google. The warrant, if Google agrees to provide the information, allows the police to collect names, emails, account information, and IP addresses of anyone who searched for the victim's name during a five-week period.
Googling someone's name isn't illegal, so privacy experts are up in arms over the potential to collect information on innocent users. Possible employers, friends, or anyone who happened to be interested in the victim during the time period in question could have their personal information handed over to the authorities.
By casting such a wide net, the Edina Police Department are also opening themselves to the possibility of evidence being thrown out before a trial if it is deemed to have been obtained illegally. Google and the Police Department aren't saying much since it is an ongoing investigation, but the full can be viewed on security researcher Tony Webster's website.