The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a search warrant that allowed the examination of Google users’ keyword history to identify suspects in a fatal 2020 arson fire. The decision has drawn criticism from privacy advocates, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which advocates for a complete ban on keyword warrants.
In the case of Seymour v. Colorado, Denver police executed a search warrant that required Google to provide the IP addresses of individuals who had searched for the address of a home within 15 days prior to it being set on fire. The fire resulted in the deaths of five Senegalese immigrants, including an infant and a toddler.
One of the suspects, Gavin Seymour, had used Google to search for the property’s address multiple times before the fire. Seymour’s lawyer argued that the evidence should be thrown out as it violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures by not targeting a specific person suspected of a crime. The court acknowledged that Seymour had a constitutionally protected privacy interest in his Google search history but decided, in a split decision, that the police acted in good faith. Therefore, the evidence will be allowed in court despite the warrant being legally flawed.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed amicus briefs highlighting the privacy implications of reverse keyword warrants. The EFF argues that these warrants have the potential to implicate innocent people or target those who search for information about abortion in states where it is criminalized.
Google stated that it was important for the court’s ruling to recognize the privacy and First Amendment interests involved in keyword searches. The company emphasized its commitment to protecting user privacy while supporting law enforcement.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision has raised concerns about the use of reverse keyword warrants and their impact on privacy rights. Privacy advocates continue to push for stronger protections in such cases.