The short answer is yes. It’s happened before.
Michele Catalano and her husband got visits from law enforcement over their Google searches..
Gilberto Valle got arrested for his (admittedly disturbing) search history.
And whatever you think of these individuals, what they chose to search, or the reaction of anyone involved, their cases prove it’s altogether possible.
See also: 5 Ways You Can Become a Cyber Criminal Without Meaning To.
It’s illegal to even attempt to find child pornography for example. Searching for it could trip law enforcement red flags, or it could just land you in hot water in the event someone else sees it, which is often more likely.
But even far more harmless searches can create problems. You may be a novelist searching “how people build bombs” or “how to kidnap someone” to lend some realism for your work, only to get a visit from law enforcement. They may even decide your search history is clear evidence of intent to commit a crime.
See also: Can You Be Charged With Attempting a Crime in New York?
Theoretically the police have to get a warrant to get at your search history. But they have ways around that, including subpoenaing your ISP for information, and installing malware into your machine.
And even innocently clearing your search history just to make sure your browser doesn’t slow down can have consequences, as it can give federal law enforcement grounds to charge you with a violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley act. And if you have committed a crime your Google search history can be a piece of evidence that gets used against you.
It’s a sticky situation, especially as we all rely on search engines every single day.
While it’s unlikely the police are watching the search history of every random Internet user you should think twice about you might be saying. You should assume your search history is never altogether private. Using privacy-protecting services can help, but even then you should stay aware of the impression you may be giving.
If you think your search history could become problematic to an ongoing case you should definitely tell your attorneys right away. While it may be somewhat embarrassing (if nothing else, most people tell Google all about their health problems every day) it could make a huge difference to your case.
Have you been charged with a crime? Get a free consultation today.