What Are Keyword Warrants?
Many people do not understand how public the internet really is. All web searches, whether through a browser, social media, or really any website is usually saved and permanently documented.
In 2019, Federal investigators used what is called a ‘keyword warrant’ to have Google search all of their customers' browser history for specific keywords that could affiliate them with a crime they were trying to solve. Google gave the IP address and any other critical information of these suspects to the investigators and with that information the investigators were able to find suspects for this crime.
There have been only two other public cases where investigators used keyword warrants to obtain suspects for a case, although there are claims that this kind of warrant has been used much more than publicly announced.
While Google has complied with keyword warrants so far, there is some controversy on the legality of this warrant. There are concerns about it potentially violating the fourth amendment, protection “against unreasonable searches” and even possibly the first amendment, the right to “the freedom of speech”. Most of the debate around this topic has come from the fact that there is a chance for innocent web users to be swept up in keyword searches as suspects just because they looked up something that may tie them into a crime.
It is very important to understand that there are real world consequences to online activity. While a keyword warrant may never affect the majority of web browser users since they are only used to track criminal activity and find suspects, it is important to remember that the internet is a public environment and you have to assume that all of your activity is being saved and even monitored.