Reverse Keyword Search Legal Challenge

Hey Google. See who searched for the word “defendant.” I’m Amy E. Feldman.

Investigators often check the internet search history of suspects in a crime.  A Google search for something like, “how do I use an axe to murder someone,” for example, would be pretty good evidence against a suspected axe murderer. 

But lawyers for a seventeen-year-old arrested for arson are challenging the reverse of that—a so-called reverse keyword search—where investigators get a warrant to force Google to tell them who has used a particular search term, and from those results, create a list of suspects as they did when they got a warrant requiring Google to find people who typed in the address of a home that was set on fire. 

The suspect’s lawyers claim that a search of literally billions of queries is a fishing expedition, and it’s an unreasonable search of personal records of people who are not, at the time of the warrant, suspects. We’ll see how the case proceeds but it’s a reminder that your electronic record does not go up in smoke.

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