Geofence Warrants Threaten Civil Liberties and Free Speech Rights in Kenosha and Nationwide | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: DENY X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

Geofence Warrants Threaten Civil Liberties and Free Speech Rights in Kenosha and Nationwide

By Matthew Guariglia, Mukund Rathi, Houston Davidson, and Jennifer Lynch

In the days following the police shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020, hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Federal law enforcement, it turns out, collected location data on many of those protesters. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) used a series of “geofence warrants” to force Google to hand over data on people who were in the vicinity of—but potentially as far as a football field away from—property damage incidents. These warrants, which police are increasingly using across the country, threaten the right to protest and violate the Fourth Amendment.

Geofence warrants require companies to provide information on every electronic device in a geographical area during a given time period. ATF used at least 12 geofence warrants issued to Google—the only company known to provide data in response to these warrants—to collect people’s location data during the Kenosha protests. The center of each geographic area was a suspected arson incident. However, the warrants reach broadly and require location data for long periods of time. One of the warrants encompassed a third of a major public park for a two-hour window during the protests. The ATF effectively threw a surveillance dragnet over many protesters, using “general warrants” that violate the Fourth Amendment and threaten the First Amendment right to protest free from government spying...

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