Court documents reveal Jan. 6 riot investigators are using Google tracking data from suspect’s phones, as evidence to prove they breached the U.S. Capitol. Investigators got the location data for more than 5,700 phones that were in or around the Capitol that day, including phones in airplane mode.
According to a report from Wired, the FBI gave extra attention to those who tried to delete their data. Investigators ultimately received account information for 1,500 devices that were determined to be inside the Capitol using what’s called a geofence warrant. A geofence warrant is a type of reverse warrant where investigators seek to learn about everyone in a certain perimeter during a certain period of time. In this case, a four acre section of the U.S. Capitol complex between 2:00 and 6:30 p.m.
A criminal complaint against David Charles Rhine revealed investigators used a search warrant to get data from Google that showed he was in or around the Capitol from 2:24 p.m. to 4:47 p.m. on Jan. 6. Google determines the device’s location by using GPS data, Wi-Fi networks and bluetooth beacons. Google said the information is accurate within 10 meters.
Rhine’s lawyers argued that using the data is overly broad and a violation of his fourth amendment rights. They also said the location history data is only meant to help Google with advertising and not intended to solve crimes. The data is 68% accurate.
Rhine’s public defender wrote in a motion to suppress evidence, “According to Google, ‘the margin of error associated with LH (location history) data means that the government’s effort to use this information for purposes for which the LH service was not designed creates a likelihood that the LH data will produce false positives — that is, that it will indicate that certain Google users were in the geographic area of interest to law enforcement who were not in fact there.’”