Editorial, August 10, 2020: Your cellphone might be "Big Brother" – Richmond.com

You might not know geofencing, but it knows you.

Geofencing is defined as a technology that draws a virtual line around a physical area so that a signal can be sent to a mobile electronic device, such as a cellphone, that has passed through that area.

If youve ever walked into a store, spoken to no one and then very shortly gotten an email or text from that store, youre familiar with the practice if not the word.

Geofencing also is a law enforcement tool, at least until and unless the courts decide otherwise.

Last year, a man robbed a Richmond-area bank of $195,000. A search warrant led to Google opening its cellphone accounts to focus on everyone near the bank at the time of the robbery. With a little sleuthing, the cops narrowed their search down to one man whose phone was inside the bank when it was robbed. He was caught with $100,000 and he confessed.

Now the mans lawyers claim that the Google search violated the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees citizens protection against unreasonable searches and guards our expectation to privacy.

His attorneys say finding the location of every cellphone near that bank is like searching every home in a neighborhood because of a nearby robbery. The federal court in Richmond will decide whether theyre right.

Freeing a man who pretty obviously did the crime on a technicality would be a hard pill to swallow. However, the way he was caught is problematic.

If you have an Android phone or iPhone, and Location History is enabled, the data from that phone is tracked and stored.

Many of us do not like the idea that our every move is being recorded. That seems invasive, not to say irritating.

A man in Florida learned that police were seeking information on his Google account. He coincidentally was in the same area where a home was burglarized and was a suspect. He spent thousands clearing his name.

An Arizona man spent six days in jail after a geofence search showed him at a place where a crime was committed. Turns out, hed given his old cellphone to another man, who did the deed.

New York state is considering a bill that would ban geofence warrants there. The federal ruling in Richmond will help determine their legality nationwide.

Geofencing is no doubt valuable in catching criminals, but the amount of privacy every citizen gives up seems like a high price to pay for making crime prevention a little easier.

If the police came knocking on your door, demanding to search your house because somebody on your block committed a crime, you likely would feel violated. Geofencing is like that, except you dont even know youre being searched. That makes it even scarier.

Adapted from The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg

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Editorial, August 10, 2020: Your cellphone might be "Big Brother" - Richmond.com

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