A keyword warrant is a warrant where law enforcement officials specify a date and time, then reach out to a service to see who has searched for a specific search term, often in a specific location. Most of these warrants are served on Google, but they could go to Bing or Yahoo as well.
These warrants have led to the arrests of innocent individuals. They catch up many more innocents in their net, exposing private information. They are legal as of this writing, though many argue searches like these cannot possibly establish probable cause well enough to satisfy the demands of the Constitution.
How have keyword warrants been used?
Here in Texas, there are serious concerns that they are already being used to help people claim the abortion bounty.
They were also used during the Austin bombing investigation. Law enforcement looked for people who had searched for various addresses, as well as terms like “pipe bomb” and “low explosives.” The argument made for probable cause was “there is probable cause that the individuals who searched for these specific terms during this time period will help law enforcement to identify persons who may have knowledge about the bombings.”
These warrants are a type of “reverse warrant” that is often being done in secret. They are usually far broader than any normal warrant could possibly be.
Will I know if I’ve been swept up in a keyword warrant?
Probably not. These warrants were sealed and kept secret until a handful of them were leaked to the public. You can probably guess that there are many more keyword warrants out there than news outlets have picked up on.
More than that, your search history can be used against you whether it’s been caught up in a keyword warrant dragnet or not. Police can just get a warrant to search your computer.
If you think your search history could be used against you to implicate you for a crime and if you think you are under investigation for a crime, if police have already showed up to ask questions or you’ve already been charged, then you need to get an attorney and you need to inform your attorney that your search history could have incriminating information in it.
This will allow your defense attorney to start crafting a defense for you, to explain that search history away.
In general, you should expect that very little that you do in the modern era is ultimately very private.
If you’re in trouble, an experienced defense lawyer is your only hope. Don’t hope your private life will remain private. Contact us for a free consultation today.
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