How Big Tech Created A Data ‘Treasure Trove’ For Police
Anubhuti Pradhan, INN/Madhya Pradesh
The US law enforcement officials cast a wide net for information. They’re frequently
shifting to the vast digital pools of personal data generated by Big Tech companies through
the devices and online services. They have hooked billions of people around the world.
The four major tech companies compiled data shows that law enforcement requests for
user information such as emails, texts, phone calls, shopping history, driving routes,
photos and more have been three times more in the US since 2015. The police
department is often savvy about covering their tracks, to not alert suspects of their interest.
That’s the backdrop for new revelations that the Trump-era US Justice Department
solicited data from Google, Apple and Microsoft about members of Congress, their aides
and news reporters in leak investigations and then pursued court orders that hindered
those companies from informing their targets. The companies agreed to deliver some data
in 85 per cent of those cases. Facebook, including its Instagram service, accounted for the
highest number of divulgences. The significance of information you can obtain from
people’s conversations online is insane.
As common people have grown dependent on Big Tech services to help manage their
lives, law enforcement officials have become far savvier about technology than they were
a couple of years ago. It is far easier for police to trace the online trails left by suspects as
well as they can also often hide their requests by obtaining gag orders from judges and
There has been a conflict to such gag orders has lately resurfaced in the wake of the
Trump-era orders. The data generated on the phone and account of two Democratic
members of the House Intelligence Committee was shared by Apple in 2018, but the
politicians didn’t find out until May, once a series of gag orders expired. Microsoft also
shared data about a congressional aide and had to wait more than two years before telling
Law enforcement can as well ask these companies to save any data generated by a
particular user, which limits the target from deleting it. This doesn’t require a search
warrant or any judicial oversight, and if police later find reasonable grounds for conducting
a search, they can return with a warrant and seize the preserved data.
Almost all prominent tech companies from Amazon to rental sites like Airbnb, ride-hailing
services like Uber and Lyft and service providers like Verizon now have units to respond to
such requests and frequently issue reports about how much they uncovered. Most of them
say that they work to narrow broad requests and reject those that aren’t legally valid.
However, the most dramatic developments in requests have been to tech companies that
cater to younger people, such as Snapchat. The company behind the application Snapchat
handled nearly 17,000 data requests in the first six months of 2020.