Human rights group alleges Google may be helping the U.S. government conduct warrantless searches in ‘massive file scanning program’
- The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed an amicus brief concerning Google’s role in helping the government seize data via warrantless searches
- Tech giants have been routinely called into question for aiding the government
- EPIC argues the government is using Google to bypass the Fourth Amendment
Human rights advocates are alleging that Google may be playing a role in the U.S. government’s efforts to conduct warrantless searches.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), based in Washington, D.C., filed an amicus brief that makes those allegations in United States v. Wilson, a federal appellate case.
EPIC argues that the federal government is using Google to circumvent the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without due process or probable cause being established.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), based in Washington, D.C., filed an amicus brief that makes those allegations in United States v. Wilson, a federal appellate case
‘EPIC has filed an amicus brief in United States v. Wilson, a case concerning Google’s scanning of billions of personal files for suspected unlawful content, at the behest of the federal government,’ EPIC said in a statement late last month.
The U.S. government has increasingly utilized private entities, such as Google, Facebook and Apple, to seize user data from cellphones and computers without the need for a warrant.
Because these entities don’t have to abide by the Fourth Amendment, agencies like the FBI can simply subpoena them for records like email messages en masse.
Google and several other companies have agreed to monitor users’ emails for images that match up with known child pornography, using a process called image hashing.
It’s essentially an automated detection system that allows Google to quickly flag child pornography images when the photograph has the same ‘digital fingerprint,’ or mathematical hash, as it has on record.
Recently, Google has taken the process a step further and deployed an algorithm to scan email communications for suspected child pornography.
Google hasn’t disclosed just how the algorithm works, however, raising concerns that it could be biased or flawed.
The U.S. government has increasingly utilized private entities, such as Google, Facebook and Apple, to seize user data from cellphones and computers without the need for a warrant
‘[Google] have not made the algorithm available for inspection or established that it can reliably identify files as containing contraband,’ EPIC argued in the amicus brief.
‘Moreover, image matching techniques, at issue in this case, do not operate the same way as file hash functions, which do in fact confirm that two files are identical.
‘And the law review article that the lower court in this case relied upon never made this distinction or discussed the use of image matching techniques,’ the document continued.
Further, EPIC argues that Google could use its algorithms to monitor material that’s unrelated to child pornography, such ‘to determine if files contain religious viewpoints, political opinions, or “banned books.”‘
It’s worth noting that Google, Apple and Facebook have previously urged the Supreme Court to protect cellphone data under the Fourth Amendment, preventing it from warrantless search and seizure by the government.
Google is no stranger to scrutiny around its dealings with the government.
EPIC pointed to Google’s recent conflict over its rumored development of a censored search engine in China, called Project Dragonfly.
WHAT IS GOOGLE’S ‘PROJECT DRAGONFLY’ SEARCH ENGINE?
‘Dragonfly’ is a rumoured effort inside Google to develop a search engine for China that would censor certain terms and news outlets, among other things.
Reports claim the tool ties users’ Google searches to their personal phone numbers to help the Chinese government monitor its citizens.
Outside of high-profile leaks, few details have emerged on what the search engine entails as Google has kept tight-lipped on the project.
A former Google employee warned of the web giant’s ‘disturbing’ plans in a letter sent to the US’s senate’s commerce committee in August 2018.
Jack Poulson said the proposed Dragonfly website was ‘tailored to the censorship and surveillance demands of the Chinese government’.
In his letter he also claimed that discussion of the plans among Google employees had been ‘increasingly stifled’.
Mr Poulson was a senior research scientist at Google until he resigned in July 2018 in protest at the Dragonfly proposals.