What New York City Residents Need to Know About Reverse Warrants

As technology has improved, both state and federal law enforcement agencies have begun using “reverse warrants” in their quest to investigate crimes. While critics often state that these warrants are little better than dragnets, they have not been successful at shutting down the use of them or keeping the evidence generated from reverse warrants out of court.

That’s why it’s important to understand them. You can avoid being blindsided by them, and you’ll know what to do if you get a knock on your door because a reverse warrant has set police officers or federal agents on your trail.

Geofencing Warrants

In a geofence warrant, law enforcement specifies a location and a period of time, then asks Google or your phone provider for data about every person who was in that neighborhood during that time. 

Google says it received 11,554 geofence warrants in 2020. 

Keyword Warrants

In a keyword warrant, law enforcement asks Google for information about individuals who searched specific terms and addresses during specific times. This type of warrant was used to make arrests in the Austin bombing.

There is no information about how often law enforcement is seeking these warrants. Only an information leak tells us they’ve been used at all. Nevertheless we can be sure this is happening more and more.  

The Key Differences Between Reverse Warrants and Traditional Warrants

There are several key differences between reverse warrants and traditional warrants.

  • A traditional warrant requires probable cause.
  • A traditional warrant names a specific location and specific evidence being searched for.
  • Traditional warrants require police to investigate first, whereas a reverse warrant is used as part of the investigation.

Law enforcement officials now have access to the data of people who have never so much as thought of committing a crime and they’re getting it even though the Supreme Court has told them they need a warrant to search a cell phone, in part because of the sheer volume of data that cell phones collect.

What should you do about a reverse warrant?

Often Google or other services will tell you that police have requested information about you. You can respond, but you’ll need a lawyer to do so effectively. 

At this point as well, you should hire a lawyer whether you committed a crime or not. Police have successfully arrested and jailed innocent parties in response to reverse warrants. You need to prepare to invoke your 5th amendment rights and you need to have a lawyer on standby, ready to show up if law enforcement officers take you in. 

Don’t count on notification though: law enforcement sometimes forbids these services from releasing that information. They’ve even arrested individuals with alibis. For example, Jorge Molina was kept in jail for six days and the police told the media that he was the criminal. He wasn’t. They cost him his his job, reputation, and his car. 

Have you received notice that law enforcement is trying to get into your data? If so, call our office immediately. We can start putting together a defense. A swift response is an effective response, and we might be able to mitigate or eliminate the damage that might result when law enforcement moves too fast in response to this data.

See also:

What to Do If Your Home or Office Gets Raided by Federal Agents

What Should You Do If You Receive a Grand Jury Subpoena? 

Does the 5th Amendment Let You Lie to Federal Agents?