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Fourth Amendment Center Helps Defense Attorneys With Tech Issues

The first time Caleb Kenyon, a Florida criminal defense attorney, saw a geofence warrant was when a new client received an alarming email from Google in 2020. Local police were requesting personal data from the client and Kenyon had just seven days to stop Google from turning it over. When Kenyon asked Google for more information, the warrant’s cover letter. It was unlike anything he or other lawyers in his network had ever seen. The geofence warrant included a map and GPS coordinates, and instructed Google to provide identifying information for every user whose device was found within the radius of that location at a certain date and time. “It was so bizarre that I just didn’t even have a concept for what I was dealing with,” he said. As tech firms build more sophisticated means of surveilling people and their devices – technology that law enforcement is eager to take advantage of – the legal community is scrambling to keep up, The Guardian reports.

Public defenders are often the most overworked and underpaid lawyers in the criminal justice system, with little time and few resources to research the new technology now being used against their clients. This creates an uneven playing field that disadvantages those who can’t afford private attorneys. That’s where organizations like the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) come in. With on-call experts, resources kits and trainings, NACDL helps attorneys navigate the increasingly complex and novel ways their clients’ privacy can be violated in the digital age – including geofence and keyword search warrants, digital device searches and facial recognition. NACDL created the Fourth Amendment Center, named for the constitutional right against unreasonable searches, to help attorneys better understand how new technology is being used against their clients. Defense attorneys and public defenders don’t have much time to chase down tech firms like Google for information about how their clients are being surveilled, and that’s where the center believes it can provide the greatest value. “They don’t have to do all this themselves,” says Mike Price, the center’s litigation director. “We can do the work, share that information and help them raise these issues in their cases in a way that doesn’t take two years.”


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