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Keyword Warrants Raise Privacy Concerns in Post-Roe America

A court in Denver may soon determine whether police can use keyword warrants to incriminate people, Slate reports. Keyword warrants may lead to the incrimination of those seeking abortions. In the past, police have used a suspect’s online search history to gather evidence. Keyword warrants, however, show every internet user who has searched for a specific topic. As far back as 2009, if police had probable cause to believe someone committed a crime, they would contact Google or other search engines asking for a list of every item a suspect has searched. In order for police to search someone’s search history, they had to identify a probable cause and get a search warrant. However, keyword warrants allow police to do mass searches and seek out suspects. To conduct a keyword warrant, police contact a search engine asking for the names and addresses of all people who search certain terms.

In the Denver case, three teenagers were charged with alleged arson after a house fire took the lives of five people. Police used a keyword warrant to find every person who googled the address of the attack. They then found the three teenagers, two 16-year-olds and one 15-year-old, and arrested them. Their lawyers argue that investigators’ use of keyword warrants violated the Fourth Amendment, which provides protection against unreasonable searches. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, prosecutors could use similar tactics to find people who searched for abortion-inducing drugs and abortion providers. Companies can choose whether or not they will provide police with information. One Privacy protecting search engine, DuckDuckGo, ignores search warrants because it does not keep search data. Big search engines like Google do not have privacy protections in place.


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