Can the Public Protect Their Privacy After Edina Google Search Case?

Minnesota cyber security expert weighs-in on privacy protection and the impact of the case

EDINA, Minn. – Cyber security experts and attorneys across the country are weighing-in on a privacy case emerging out of Minnesota.

Public records researcher Tony Webster published his findings on a warrant filed by the Edina Police Department in February, showing that the warrant asked for Google user information on specific Google searches.

Webster explains the warrant stems from a case involving a Minnesota bank which received a wire transfer request and was given a fake passport to verify the transaction. The Edina Police Department searched the victim’s name and found the photo used in the fake passport exclusively on Google, leading the police to believe the suspect searched Google for the victim’s name in order to make the fake passport.

According to Webster’s report, Edina Police Detective David Lindman asked the court to approve a search warrant seeking the names, email addresses, account information, and IP addresses of anyone who searched variations of the victim’s name over a five-week period of time.

“Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson signed Edina’s warrant and Detective Lindman served it about 20 minutes later,” reported Webster.

This privacy issue is garnering discussion around the globe, largely because the court’s ruling could set a major privacy precedent. Google vowed to fight the warrant after news about the scope of the warrant broke.

According to the Star Tribune, a spokesperson for Google said: “We will continue to object to this overreaching request for user data, and if needed, will fight it in court. We always push back when we receive excessively broad requests for data about our users.”

Privacy law experts and cyber security experts are keeping a close eye on this case, saying it will set a major precedent in data privacy law.

“If the Edina Police Department wins this battle with Google, it will become extremely difficult to hide your Google searches from future warrants,” cybersecurity expert Tyler Olson said. Olson has won several awards for his work in various technology fields and is currently the CEO of SMCpros. 

There are some things people can do in order to protect their privacy.

“Signing out of Google on your browser would help, but will make your life substantially less convenient and still isn’t perfect,” Olson said, “Using an incognito browser would help further, but still won’t fully protect from the data obtained through the warrants being sought after.”

Olson says the best protection is to use a virtual private network, which connects the computer someone is using to a computer in a remote location through a secure connection and provides additional layers of protection for privacy. Olson said this may require some outside help, explaining that setting this type of system up is beyond the skillsets of most people.

Legal experts are skeptical of this warrant passing constitutional scrutiny in court, according to the Star Tribune report.

Olson suggests the public keeps a close eye on this case, saying there are, “very large ramifications if and when authorities have the legal right to this sort of data.”

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