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Keyword warrants should not be legal

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2023 | Firm News |

Defense attorneys here in Colorado are questioning the legality of “keyword warrants,” which track suspects’ keyword searches when surfing the internet. This technique was used to ID and arrest three teens connected to a deadly fire in 2020 that killed five people. The suspects are accused of setting a fatal fire to the home of someone they believed had stolen from them. However, the supposed thief had the wrong home address listed on the internet, which led to the suspect setting the wrong house (in their eyes) on fire.

Too broad for a Constitutional search warrant

The police obtained a search warrant from Google and subsequently identified the address searches as the premise for the charges against the suspects. One of the defendants’ attorneys, who does not work at this firm, filed a motion requesting that the Colorado Supreme Court review the case.

Critics believe that so-called “keyword searches” are unconstitutional because the searches are overly broad in scope. They are counter to how warrants usually work, where investigators identify a suspect, develop probable cause, and then get a search warrant. In contrast, keyword searches basically check everyone because they already have a search warrant.

Defendants can fight to dismiss this evidence

A Denver judge ruled in 2022 that keyword searches were legal under the law and denied the defense’s request to toss out the keyword search evidence. Obviously, there are privacy issues involved in law enforcement checking Google searches. Still, keyword searches could become all too common unless the Colorado Supreme Court says otherwise.