Geofencing Warrants

Geofencing Warrants

Today in Wired, I read about geofencing warrants.

Geofence Warrants are a law enforcement practice. Law enforcement submits a request to tech companies, notably Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook, for a list of all the devices in, at, or near a location during a specific period of time. The objective of this practice is to identify people to be interviewed as part of an investigation. 

Example,

  • To identify devices within a few hundred yards to a mile of a murder scene, or accident.

As of the summer of 2020, this practice is coming under scrutiny, as some have raised privacy concerns about the practice; the practice could cause harm. It could have an adverse effect on individuals’ right to privacy and civil liberties. 

For instance, it could be used

  • to identify people during a protest in violation of the protesters’ First Amendment rights, i.e. the right to free speech.
  • in densely populated areas in violation of individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights, namely their right to “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure.”

I’m all for the development of technology and the use of technology to maintain societal safety and democracy, but I do have my concerns. I want to believe that most people and organizations have well-meaning intentions, that they want to create value for people and themselves, but capabilities like geofencing have so many applications that can be used for malign purposes. We need to be careful.

I think it is crucial that we develop a wide range of technology that leverages personal data, like an individual’s location, to generate value for both society and for the individual, but it is imperative that we find ways to ensure individual users of this technology have the ability to maintain their agency and self-sovereignty.

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