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‘Possible Cause’ Is All That’s Needed for Geofence Warrants

by Douglas Ankney

Thousands of protesters stormed the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in response to yet another killing of a Black man. At the Kenosha Public Library, lighter fluid and rags were found in a window well. There were no eyewitnesses to the incident. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) established a geofence for a period of two hours.

A geofence is a dragnet cast by cops using GPS datapoints and cellphone information obtained from companies like Google to determine who was in the area within the specified time period. To access the information, police use a geofence warrant (also known as a reverse warrant). Probable cause isn’t necessary. Law enforcement can identify you—as it’s possible cause you were there.

On the night of the geofence surrounding the library, thousands of innocent protesters likely gathered in the nearby park. It was the most logical meeting place. But the geofence and their cellphones have made them eligible for a face-to-face encounter with a federal agent. It’s possible, cause they were there, right?

A team of 50 arson investigators from the ATF were deployed to Kenosha to solve the many arsons in the wake of the protest. So far, six unsealed warrants show persistent efforts to use Google’s location services to identify Android users within the many geofences established around arson incidents. At least seven geographical zones were targeted for periods as long as two hours.

The next time a crime happens in your neighborhood, don’t be surprised if an agent knocks on your door. It’s possible cause you were there.   


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