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Geofence Warrants, How Your Phone Is Your Own Worst Enemy

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Since 2019 police have been relying upon geofence warrants which sweep up information on any device that happens to be within the vicinity of a crime. Requesting wide ranging data police often get information from companies like Google, that collect data on people who happen to be in the nearby area. Almost all of these are innocent people. Police have been using the tactic instead of seeking warrants for a person backed up with a probable cause. Police tend to use this information in murder cases as well as non-violent property crimes like a burglary.

Geofence warrants are sometimes known as reverse location searches and it’s just one tool police use. This information allows police to get information on anyone who happens to be in a particular area with a single request. Google is the main company that gets the majority of these requests due to its exceptional location history feature and it only provides data from that feature which you need to opt into. In the past, Google has said that it would not comply with requests that didn’t have a warrant attached to it and has even gone so far as to litigate against revealing location history without a warrant.

“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement. We developed a process specifically for these requests that is designed to honor our legal obligations while narrowing the scope of data disclosed,” Richard Salgado, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security, said in a statement.

To avoid being tracked by your location you can turn off the feature buy googles instructions. Additionally, you can carry one phone without anything on it, commonly called a clean phone, and have another phone at home that has everything else on it. Of course, you can always not bring a phone with you. Any phone that you do bring with you should be encrypted.

Always disable your biometrics. Using your fingerprint or face to unlock your phone should always be disabled in order to keep privacy. Instead use a strong pin or passcode made of at least 12 digits using a combination of numbers and letters. When you want to communicate on your phone that is “clean”, you can use Signal or WhatsApp. Keep in mind that Facebook owns WhatsApp and take that into account. Make sure you have no pictures on your clean phone. You can do this with a tool called image scrubber which makes it very easy and takes just a few seconds to anonymize any picture. Create alternative social media accounts that aren’t connected with your personal life on your clean phone. This can keep your employer out of your business as well as anyone else.

The easiest solution of course is the best solution, which is just to stop bringing your phone with you as you go throughout the day. It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t need phones with them 24/7. We didn’t need Google to figure out where we were going, and we knew how to do real things like read a map and find a local coffee shop.

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