Google Provided Geofence Location Data to FBI for Jan 6 Investigations

5,723 individuals were connected to the US Capitol during January 6 based on location data.

QUICK FACTS:
  • The FBI has used geofencing data to pinpoint individuals participating in the January 6 Capitol riot.
  • Geofencing is the process of acquiring location data within a certain area, usually created by businesses to market to a particular demographic.
  • FBI officials have increasingly turned to geofence warrants to obtain location history from Google, which is given roughly 10,000 warrants each year in the US alone.
  • Among the nearly 6,000 individuals located within Capitol proximity on January 6, only 900 have been charged.
  • The FBI initially requested Google to “identify all devices in a 4-acre area” surrounding the US Capitol, to which Google located 5,723 devices that were affiliated with the 4-acre geofence.
  • To narrow their search, FBI inquired into the devices that were “present at the Capitol from 12 pm to 12:15 pm on January 6, and from 9 pm to 9:15 pm,” as these phones most likely belonged to congressional members and authorities, removing 205 people from the original list of 5,723 people.
  • FBI officials then sought the phone numbers, Google accounts, and email addresses of those detected within the geofence, flagging those who deleted their location history from January 6 to January 13.
  • The FBI gathered information on over 1,500 individuals, citing geofence data in more than 100 charges related to January 6.
  • These investigations mark the largest disclosure of location history and data from Google to the FBI.
GEOFENCE DATA CONTROVERSY:
  • David Rhine, a man present at January 6 and accused of criminal activity, is calling for geofencing data to be concealed on the basis that it is a violation of privacy.
  • Rhine was only found in surveillance footage after authorities flagged his location data.
  • Arguing that geofencing data is too broad in its scope, Rhine’s attorneys suggested investigating “millions of unknonwn accounts” through location data is comparable to a “massive fishing expedition.”
  • As an individual’s location history is connected to their constitutionally-protected activities, “a geofence warrant almost always involves intrusion into constitutionally protected areas,” the lawyers continued.
  • Google has defended the use of geofencing, saying the company has “a rigorous process for geofence warrants that is designed to protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement.”
  • “If a request asks for too much information, we work to narrow it,” a representative from Google said. “We routinely push back on overbroad demands, including overbroad geofence demands, and in some cases, we object to producing any information at all.”
BACKGROUND:
  • In addition to the numerous privacy concerns posed by geofencing data, an Arizona citizen was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit due to being digitally traced to a given location.
  • Location data was also used during Covid lockdowns to track the number of Americans complying with the mandates versus those who continued going to school and church.
  • Private data was purchased by government officials through a third party to track Americans, calling the information “patterns of life.”