A coalition of tech giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo has pledged to support a New York bill banning the use of controversial search warrants to identify people based on their location data and their internet search keywords.
In a brief statement, the coalition known as Reform Government Surveillance said it “supports the passage of New York Assembly Bill A84A, the Reverse Location Search Ban Act. , which would prohibit the use of reverse location and reverse keyword searches”.
The bill, if passed, would become the first state law to ban so-called geofencing warrants and keyword search warrants, which rely on the fact that tech companies require you to provide data about users who were near a crime scene or were searching for particular keywords at a specific point in time. But the bill has not budged since being sent to committee for discussion in January, the first major hurdle before it could be considered for a floor vote.
Reform Government Surveillance was set up in 2013 by several Silicon Valley tech companies to pressure lawmakers to reform US surveillance laws following the leak of classified documents by the entrepreneur NSA Edward Snowden. The coalition now has 11 members – Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Evernote, Google, Meta, Microsoft, Snap, Twitter, Yahoo (which owns TechCrunch) and Zoom.
The tech coalition’s decision to back New York’s bill isn’t entirely altruistic. At least three of RGS’s members – Google, Microsoft and Yahoo – are frequently approached by law enforcement for location data and user search records due to the large amount of data they store. over billions of users worldwide. Last year, Google said about a quarter of all its legal requests in the United States were for geofencing warrants, a figure that’s growing exponentially every year.
Geofencing warrants are requested by law enforcement and signed by a judge to order companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, which collect and store billions of location data points from phones and apps. their users, to hand over location data on phones that were in a certain geographic area at a certain time to help identify suspects. Keyword search warrants work the same way, except a judge orders a search giant like Google to turn over user records of those who searched for certain keywords at a given time.
Critics say these types of warrants are unconstitutional and can include data on individuals unrelated to a crime, and in some cases can be charged with wrongdoing simply by being physically close to the scene of a crime.
The ACLU, which supports the passage of the bill, told TechCrunch it has seen thousands calling on state lawmakers to pass the bill after it launched an email campaign last week. .