Google helps nab criminals, but are innocents safe?

NEW YORK: At a time when concerns over data collection and breach by tech majors are on the rise, it has been reported that US law enforcement officials have been turning to a particular Google database called “Sensorvault” to trace location and other data of people as part of their investigations.
The database, that is otherwise maintained to collect user-information from Google products for ad targeting, contains detailed location records from hundreds of millions of phones. It is unclear how often requests for such location records have led to arrests or convictions, because many of the investigations are still open. The practice was first used by federal agents in 2016, according to Google employees, and first publicly reported last year in North Carolina. This year, one Google employee said, the company received as many as 180 requests in US in a week’s time. Google declined to confirm precise numbers.
In a statement, Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, said that the company tried to “vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement.” He added that it handed over identifying information only “where legally required.” Before the officials could use Google’s database for probe purposes, they require a “geofence” warrant — that specifies an area and a time period that helps Google gather infor mation about the devices that were available in the specified window. “We have created a new process for these specific requests designed to honour our legal obligations while narrowing the scope of data disclosed,” Salgado added.
Even though law enforcements seeking help from tech giants is not uncommon, the use of “Sensorvault” data has raised concerns about innocent people who could be wrongly or mistakenly implicated. A man was arrested last year in a murder probe after Google’s data had reportedly landed him on the police’s radar. He was released from jail after a week when investigators arrested another suspect.
Google has also been subjected to scrutiny after it was revealed that the search engine giant had been tracking people’s location even after they turned off location-sharing on their phones.
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