A new law suit filed in the USA complains that Google is helping the U.S. government circumvent constiutional protections in order to conduct warrantless searches on citizens. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has formally accused Google of scanning billions of personal files of users at the request of the U.S. government. EPIC recently filed a “friend of the court” brief alleging that Google is helping the U.S. government conduct warrantless searches by scanning user files in search of potentially illegal content or evidence of crimes.
The new suit came in response to United States v. Wilson, a case in which it was shown Google scanned billions of users files in an attempt to identify images of children reported as lost or missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). After scanning images contained om users computers, Google contacts law enforcement agencies with information on individuals who have images that may show missing children. Unfortunately this entire process happens without permission from users or a warrant issued by a court, and without reasonable grounds to suspect the individuals whose files are accessed of involvement in any crome. EPIC’s brief argues that “because neither Google nor the government explained how the image matching technique actually works or presented evidence establishing accuracy and reliability, the government’s search was unreasonable.”
EPIC claims the situation allows law enforcement oficers to ignore civil rights protections against unreasonable search and seizure of property and conduct warrantless searches with help from Google.
“If, for example, police officials would like to examine the digital files of certain suspects, they can simply turn to Google, which will do all the searching for them – and without the time, expense or hassle of getting a warrant for this search,” CPO Magazine reports. “For police departments, warrantless searches of digital material would be one way to make their criminal investigations much easier.”
This particular case centres on a new Google algorithm that scans files to locate a specific image using image matching. Previously, the NCMEC was required to provide Google with image hashes, used to identify a unique image without showing the actual image. However, Google’s new algorithm uses image matching instead of image hashing. EPIC said the “lower court made a key mistake” by confusing file hashing with the more personal method of image matching.
EPIC’s concern centers around the ways this technology might be used to target citizens for their religious or political affiliations, or even for viewing content security sgencies disapprove of. Remember, the US Govertnment under the Obama Administration, the UK Government under both Labour and Conservative Administeatuions, the German Government and the French government have all seriously considered crominalising the viewing and discussion of content questioning climate change, vaccine programs, military interventions in sovereign nations and criticism of Islam. After the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, (March 2019,) officials threatened jail time to any New Zealand citizen in possession of the shooter’s livestream video. With Google’s current policy, what’s to stop New Zealand’s law enforcement from asking Google to search user files for a copy of the banned “hate content”?
If Google continues to show the world they respect neither privacy laws or users’ civil rights, why are so many people still not only using the tool but waxing lyrical about how it has improved our lives? The realities are that Google’s search technology made it a lot easier to hide information governments or tech companies do not want you to see, and that corporations will work with governments to erode privacy—and thus, freedom — so long as they know huge numbers of people around the world will still believe what they are told to believe and carry on using the services of corrupt and totally self interested corporate entities.