Does the FBI Monitor All Your Google Searches?


UPDATE: The Suffolk County Police Department says today that they recently received a tip “from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee.” Based on that, they paid him a visit. The FBI apparently wasn’t involved, and neither was any kind of surveillance of Google searches. More here.


Doug Mataconis passes along a blog post from Michele Catalano about a recent visit her family got from six agents belonging to a joint terrorism task force. It turns out that she had been googling for pressure cookers, her husband had been googling for backpacks, and her son had been googling for news about the Boston bombings. This raised some red flags and produced the JTTF visit. Mataconis comments:

As Catalano notes in her post, as well as in several Tweets regarding the incident collected by Gizmodo, the agents were respectful of her family and didn’t disturb the house in any significant way while conducting their “search.”….Nonetheless, it does raise some interesting questions about exactly what kind of Internet surveillance is going on out there. Quite obviously, the FBI would not have shown up at the Catalano home if some connection had not been made between Google searches conducted several weeks in the past, their IP address, and eventually their home address. On a basic level, this would seem to require; (1) that there is a program out there monitoring seemingly random Google searches by American citizens, (2) that this program allows the government to track IP addresses, or obtain them from Google by some means, and (3) that they were then able to connect the IP address to a home address, presumably with information obtained from whichever company happens to provide the Catalano’s with their internet access.

All of this raises several legal questions, of course. For example, under what legal authority is the Federal Government monitoring the Google searches/Internet activity of American citizens, presumably without a warrant?….More important, though, is how the FBI managed to get its hands on this information and on the Catalano’s home address. Was there a FISA warrant issued?….Was there any warrant issued at all?

Why yes, those are good questions! They’re especially good since the agents told Catalano’s husband that they make about 100 visits like this each week. Inquiring minds would like to know more.

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