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Naughty or Nice?: What Google, Law Enforcement, and Santa Claus know about YOU

Posted by Joseph Tully | Dec 22, 2019

Santa Google Spying

Law Enforcement does not need Santa's List to know who's been naughty or nice. They have Google and other tech giants keeping a running account of your daily activities and interactions for them and everyone else to access, use, and abuse. Your local police and sheriffs, DAs, the IRS, and FBI, all have access to your life via a simple warrant that will likely be automatically approved by indifferent judges.

As we will see below, in an actual warrant request from a recent case in California, your life is about as private as the scene in a snowglobe. Though this data is allegedly used to only catch “bad guys”, it is frequently used to dig up data and connections in order to make a case for SOMETHING against anyone. With over a hundred million Americans being digitally spied upon, and BILLIONS of data points gathered and collated, it is probable innocent people fall into the whirlpool of information and come out looking guilty. With so much data to manipulate, Law Enforcement can cherry-pick a handful of unrelated items in order to weave a circumstantial case to suit any crimes they are investigating.

According to the song, here is what Santa knows about us:

♬ You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town ♬ He's making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town ♬ He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake. ♬

In the digital age, being good for goodness sake is no longer good enough. Innocent actions and wild coincidences can be warped into nefarious intentions and criminal conspiracies by unethical overzealous law enforcement.

Below is a warrant filed by a homicide detective in LA for a target's digital data from Google. It is a spectacularly broad warrant — and also a chilling reminder of how much data Google holds on us. The warrant seeks:

      1. All account data (email addresses, connected applications and sites, etc)
      2. Android info (phone make/model and IMEI, IMSI and phone number)
      3. All stored “accounts, email accounts, passwords, PIN codes, account names, user names, screen names, remote data storage accounts, credit card/payment data, contact lists, calendar entries, text messages, voice mail messages, pictures, videos, telephone numbers, mobile devices, physical addresses, historical GPS locations, two-step verification information”
      4. All calendars, including shared calendars (and with whom they are shared)
      5. All stored contacts
      6. “All user documents stored by Google”
      7. Any records of securities, funds, etc
      8. All Gmail messages, including metadata like read/unread
      9. All Google Photo images
      10. All stored location data
      11. All Play Store purchases and downloads
      12. All search history
      13. All call records, voicemail messages, SMSes
      14. All Google Wallet/Checkout data

At first glance, it seems useful for a homicide investigator to pull up so much data on a subject. Except in this case, the deputy was combing through the data from a well-known criminal justice reformer who works with minors accused of serious crimes. The reformer and his team of lawyers are working pro-bono defending a youth the Deputy was investigating.

Attorneys for the reformer claim the deputy “has weaponized his badge and position of power to target, harass, intimidate, and silence several individuals who dared to advocate for or represent [the Teen Defendant].” They wrote that the deputy's actions create a “chilling effect on legal practitioners tasked with representing those accused of crimes.” The attorneys wrote the LASD deputy's actions send a message: “Defend those [the Deputy] deems prosecution-worthy and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department will come after you.”

graph 80 percent Google warrant approval

According to Google's own internal transparency report, requests by Law Enforcement for user data are approved about 80% of the time. Eighty percent is a really high number in a society where we have a right to privacy, and an expectation of innocence until proven guilty.

With those odds, and the sheer volume of data stored about us, it is not a stretch for an aggressive DA or unethical detective to weave together circumstantial evidence to fit the theory of any crime. There are already thousands of innocent people in prison based on circumstantial evidence, and lenient judges are making it easier than ever for more to join them based on digital data.

Santa Claus might give you a lump of coal for being naughty, but overzealous law enforcement can twist your own data to give you '25 to Life'.

We could be more defensive of our privacy: encrypt our messages, VPN our web-surfing, and switch burner phones every month. Evasive actions are an imposition on the innocent. WE should expect to be free from surveillance and snooping. WE should be protected from having evidence gathered illegally and used against us. Violating the Constitution should be a big deal.

Judges need to be held accountable for rubber stamping approvals for these vague warrants. Cops and prosecutors are empowered to overreach by their partners in the criminal justice system, the DAs, Judges, and other Politicians. They are elected officials that benefit from helping convict more people. Being “tough on crime” helps get votes, which can lead our elected DAs, Judges, and Representatives, to bend the rules in their favor. We must end our State of Collusion in California.

About Attorney Joseph Tully

Attorney Joseph Tully Bio

Joseph Tully brings a passion to law practice rarely seen among criminal defense lawyers and it drives his extraordinary record of positive outcomes. He outworks and out-prepares prosecutors because he knows the State's massive law enforcement and judicial machine has inherent advantages over an individual; someone caught up in the prosecutor's “presumed-guilty” criminal process.

Prosecutors around California know Joseph Tully will strive to uncover police misconduct or negligence, expose untruthful witnesses, seek to exclude defective evidence, and assure a judge or jury is aware of every circumstance and true fact scenario. He is an aggressive defender of your liberty.

As an author, Joseph's first-hand observations of law enforcement, prosecutorial and other government misconduct are the subject of his best-selling non-fiction book – California: State of Collusion

About the Author

Joseph Tully

Founding Partner, Criminal Law Specialist Our founding attorney, Joseph Tully, is sought out for his expert legal advice throughout California. With over 20 years of experience as a criminal lawyer, in 1000+ felony and other cases, Tully served as felony trial counsel as a public defender before...