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Police Investigation | Google Records | Search Warrant?

Thieves stole valuable art from Jeff Gundlach's house.  But included in the artwork were two pieces by a deceased, unknown artist with an unusual name, "Helen Fuchs."  

So, soon after the heist, police went to Google and inquired:  Tell us about any searches, since the date of the heist, for "Helen Fuchs."  

Google looked into its records and did find a recent search for "Helen Fuchs."  Google provided police enough information about the search to enable police to find the thieves and all of the stolen artwork.

Question:  What kind of legal process would Google require in order to turn over this information?  Criminal subpoena?  Search warrant?  

If a court-issued search warrant were involved, I wonder what were the precise legal grounds for issuing the warrant.

Specificity

I'll bet that Google would have rejected the subpoena or warrant as unenforceable* unless it were highly fact-specific.  In this case, the facts were very tightly defined, thus limiting the scope of what was requested from Google:

1.  unusual name
2. deceased person
3. logical connection with recent, high-value crime (That is, it is logical that art thieves who possess artwork signed with an unusual name would go to Google to determine who the artist is and whether the artwork is valuable.)
4.  The only Google searches relevant to the investigation would have occurred within a short time window (just a few days or weeks).

*Major service providers like Google are persnickety about legal orders to release information.  They don't want to be involved in every dog-bite case or every evidence fishing expedition.
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Benjamin Wright's profile photoBrian Willingham's profile photo
3 comments
 
The question for me is why the FBI couldn't figure that out?
 
+Brian Willingham An FBI investigator is stretched very thin.  He or she is normally juggling a whole bunch of cases, and does not have a lot of time to think like Sherlock Holmes about any particular one.  
 
Fair enough, but that seems relatively elementary...
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