September 2020

Geofence Warrants Locate People
Near Crime-Scenes

Geofence warrants are a law enforcement tool, described by some as the reverse of more customary search warrants that may focus on a specific suspect, where the investigators start with a specific date, time, and location and narrow-down information received to try to identify a suspect. Investigators get the data from tech companies (e.g., Google, Apple, Uber) and usually initially receive anonymous data relating to devices that were in the location at the specific time. The investigators use other tools to pare down the information and then submit additional requests for more specific email addresses, account-holder data, etc.

The geofence warrants are being used with greater frequency: Google indicated that requests for data increased 1,500% in 2018 over 2017; it was reported that requests in 2019 averaged about 180 per week.

New York state assemblyman Dan Quart, who has co-introduced bills to prohibit the geofence warrant data-gathering, was quoted as saying the practice “is as clear as day a fishing expedition that violates people’s basic constitutional rights.” Assemblyman Quart also said, “I could easily see how a reverse warrant could be used against protesters to violate people’s First Amendment rights.” Recently, a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Chicago denied requests by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for geofence warrants, stating that the process was overbroad and could not, in a populated area like Chicago, be “narrowly tailored” so as to be in compliance with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

Sources: Sidney Fussell, “Creepy ‘Geofence’ Finds Anyone Who Went Near a Crime Scene,”, September 4, 2020:

Recent Study Shows Extent of
Security Camera Recording

A recent study done by found that by 2021 there will an estimated one billion security cameras in use globally, and between 10 and 18 percent of those in the United States; stated another way, there will be one camera for every 4.6 people in the U.S.  In contrast to the findings of a 2016 survey, which found that the average American thinks she is recorded somewhere less than five times per day, the study found that Americans, on average, are recorded 238 times per week; that number includes 14 recordings in the person’s own home and neighborhood, an average of 40 recordings done at work each week, and 160 times while driving.

Sources: Chris Melore, “Average American recorded by security cameras 238 times each week,”, September 23, 2020:
Safety Team, “Study: The Average American is Filmed by At Least an Estimated 238 Security Cameras a Week,“, September 24, 2020:

Automatic License-Plate Reader
Usage Expands

A license-plate reader manufacturer, Flock Safety, recently announced a new program, Total Analytics Law Officers Network (“TALON”), to network about 400 law enforcement agencies using the readers.

Automatic license plate readers (“ALPRs”) are cameras mounted on law enforcement vehicles that continuously photograph license plates as the enforcement vehicles drive around; the information gathered, along with place and time, is collected into databases.

Critics of license-plate readers cite privacy concerns and racial justice and disparity concerns. For example, a study in 2015 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that Black and Hispanic drivers were likely to be scanned. In March 2019, the ACLU learned from documents that ICE agents used a database that has input from 150 million to 200 million scans each month.

Sources: Alfred Ng, “License plate tracking for police set to go nationwide,”, August 18, 2020:
Flock Safety webpage:
Electronic Frontier Foundation webpage:
Related:  Criminal Defense Newsletter, Volume 36 Issue 10, July, 2013, p. 9:

by Neil Leithauser
Associate Editor