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Beware What You Google: Fourth Amendment Constitutionality of Keyword Warrants

Abstract: Many Americans have potentially had their privacy rights invaded through invisible, widespread police searches. In recent years, local and federal governments have compelled Google and other search engine companies to produce the personal information of users who have conducted a search query related to a crime. By using keyword warrants, the government can conduct a dragnet search for suspects, imposing suspicion on users and exposing their personal information. The keyword warrant is a symptom of the erosion of the Fourth Amendment protection against suspicionless searches. Not only is scholarship scarce on keyword warrants, but also instances of these warrants are rare because the court often seals the records. This Comment argues that keyword warrants are unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment because these warrants do not meet the particularity requirement, which requires warrants to name the place or person to be searched. Here, keyword warrants cast a wide net on potentially thousands of individuals. In response, technology companies should be more involved in fighting to secure the personal information of their users, not only for their customers’ benefit, but to protect the integrity of their product. Additionally, while courts should be striking down keyword warrants, this Comment advises legislatures to curb the government’s use of essential technologies, like search engines, as a means of surveillance.

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