The federal government has reportedly issued a search warrant to Google, ordering the search engine to give the information of everyone who uses it to enter specific search keywords.
Nevertheless, they went out of their way to convince the public that they may put their faith in them. U.S. officials reassured citizens that they would not abuse the powers of the secret FISA courts to snoop on them, notes The True Defender.
While it's unclear whether the U.S. government has covertly issued these warrants, there are growing concerns that innocent internet users may find themselves the target of criminal investigations more often than previously believed.
According to a Forbes report based on an accidentally leaked court document, federal investigators are utilizing new "keyword warrants" to ask Google for information on anybody who searched for a victim's name or address during a certain year in an attempt to track down offenders.
Despite the fact that Google gets hundreds of warrant requests each year, keyword warrants are a relatively new tactic employed by the authorities and therefore controversial.
The government says that the scope of the warrants is limited to avoid implicating innocent people who happen to search for particular keywords, yet the amount of users' data given to the government and the breadth of the warrant requests are not publicly disclosed.
The American Civil Liberties Union's surveillance and cybersecurity counsel, Jennifer Granick, previously told Forbes that "This never-before-possible technique threatens First Amendment interests and will inevitably sweep up innocent people, especially if the keyword terms are not unique and the time frame not precise. To make matters worse, police are currently doing this in secret, which insulates the practice from public debate and regulation."
Google has justified its move to comply to the orders, claiming that doing so safeguards users.
"As with all law enforcement requests, we have a rigorous process that is designed to protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement," a Google spokesman stated.
However, according to CNET, the company refused to reveal how many keyword warrants it has gotten in the past three years.
The Washington Examiner reported last month that Google monitors its workers' internet activity and uses a variety of monitoring techniques to keep tabs on them.
According to The Information, the tech giant focuses on workers who are contemplating quitting because they are concerned about accessing or leaking confidential information. Employees who have done research on the cost of COBRA health insurance for example, or those who have written resignation letters, or looked for an internal checklist for individuals looking to quit the business are flagged by corporate security.
Google's security team reportedly raises warnings when workers utilize non-Google online storage services or snap screenshots on their work devices while using an encrypted chat platform.
In fact, an employee of Google sued the business last year, claiming that the internet giant had surreptitiously seen his online conversations and was using them against him. Earlier this year, Google dismissed workers who had reportedly obtained extremely sensitive corporate information.
The Information also reported that Google also secretly collects and uses user data for its own purposes.
Google's "SensorVault" database, which permanently retains precise user location data, is reportedly used by government enforcement to access some of its users' data.
A police officer once told the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the data "shows the whole pattern of life" because of how accurate it is.