Newly unveiled court documents reveal that Google directly colluded with the FBI in the aftermath of the peaceful protests at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, providing the bureau with the location data for nearly 6,000 cell phones near the Capitol on that day.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the information was revealed through filings in the case against accused January 6th protester David Rhine; the records show that Google identified for the FBI at least 5,723 mobile devices as being either in or near the Capitol building. Later that year, in May of 2021, Google provided the personal information for another 1,535 devices.
This revelation marks the single largest disclosure of geolocation data ever given to a law enforcement agency by Google, which some argue is a massive violation of privacy rights.
“The January 6 cases are going to be used to build a doctrine that will essentially enable police to find almost anyone with a cellphone or a smart device in ways that we, as a society, haven’t quite grasped yet,” said Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at American University, in response to the findings. Rhine’s attorneys similarly argued that the information was collected in a manner that “almost always involves intrusion into constitutionally protected areas.”
The court documents further revealed the process through which the FBI and Google coordinated to narrow down the devices belonging to the peaceful protesters, with the FBI first asking the tech giant to identify all devices within four acres of the Capitol during the times of 2:00 PM EST and 6:30 PM EST, which was about when protesters entered the building.
The FBI then asked Google to identify all devices in the same area between Noon and 12:15 PM and 9:00 PM and 9:15 PM, when no protesters were left in the area, in order to help exclude devices belonging to members of Congress or congressional staffers. Lastly, the FBI then requested that Google hand over the personal information of the remaining devices, including phone numbers, email addresses, and Google accounts.