Law enforcement officials must comply with a number of rules and protocol when investigating and or searching individuals suspected of being involved in a crime. These procedures are designed to ensure the government does not overstep its bounds when intruding upon the privacy of individuals, and they are part of our Fourth Amendment right, which protects us from unlawful search and seizure.
While there are Constitutional rights that protect people from unjustified searches and government explorations into our personal information, new legal issues pop up from time to time that force us to determine when it may be appropriate for law enforcement to search or seize certain property in certain situations and when it is not.
This is precisely what happened in February, when an identity theft investigation out of Edina Minnesota led local police to request a search warrant that was later approved by a judge in Hennepin County. The warrant, which has raised a number of concerns over privacy rights, sought to give police access the Google search history of any person in the city of Edina who searched for the name “Douglas Junker” between the first of December and January 7th.
Douglas Junker is a resident of Edina and a victim of identity theft that records show resulted in a loss of nearly $30,000. According to police, the perpetrators allegedly used Google to search for Junker, find his photo, and forge his passport. By obtaining the search warrant, police are hopeful that they will able to locate the person who searched for the photo of Douglas Junker. However, as many privacy rights advocates and legal experts attest, permitting this type of search warrant could have unintended consequences.
In a featured segment on the story, Fox 9 News turned to Partner Joe Tamburino to share his insight on the case and what the search warrant could mean. According to Attorney Tamburino, who has never seen anything like this warrant in his 25+ year career, granting the search warrant on such a wide scale could have frightening implications, as it would provide police with the personal information of thousands of people – people who likely are not connected with the crime in question. He also said this personal information would become public following the investigation. Would you be comfortable with your google search history becoming part of public record as a result of a wide scale investigation into a crime you aren’t connected with?
As Attorney Tamburino tells Fox9, the search warrant is more or less a “shotgun approach” and “completely backwards.”
You can view Fox 9 News segment featuring Attorney Tamburino here.
Following the approval by the Hennepin County judge, Google has announced that it plans to challenge the warrant. Similar cases involving privacy and tech companies, such as Apple, have made news in recent years. These cases are important, as they involve new situations and issues that must be interpreted through the filter of long-standing legal concepts.
While the right to be protected from unlawful search and seizure has existed for over 200 years, it is constantly being put to the test as society and situations evolve. For example, the use of DWI checkpoints, in which law enforcement has the ability to stop drivers without reasonable suspicion that they are impaired, was once a critical issue in regard to privacy and criminal searches. Today, digital information, such as that recorded on computers, through websites, and even through smart devices, raises new questions about when law enforcement can and cannot gain access to that information when conducting a criminal investigation.
Our legal team at Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm, P.A. is proud to be a trusted source for insight when unique and interesting legal issues arise in our communities. We believe it is important for everyone to understand their rights when it comes to criminal investigations and the protocol the government must follow, as well as how current issues may affect their rights in the future. We also use our knowledge of these issues to effectively raise challenges when they become a part of our clients’ cases.
If you have further questions about your rights in regard to a current criminal investigation or charge in Minneapolis of any of the surrounding areas of Minnesota, place your trust in our award-winning Minneapolis criminal defense lawyers. Contact us today to discuss your case during a free consultation.