Could You Be Arrested For What You Searched On Google Last Week?

Keyword Warrants Are Here With a Host of Troubling Questions

Grant Piper
4 min readOct 14, 2021


Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

An unsealed warrant came into the public eye this month with troubling implications for the future of free speech, criminal justice, and big tech. In a now public warrant, Google was petitioned by the government to turn over all of the information of users that searched for certain phrases during set periods of time. The warrant was a part of a child trafficking investigation in Wisconsin. The federal investigators were looking for anyone who searched for certain names and addresses of the alleged victim and her family.

The parameters surrounding this warrant were fairly narrow in scope but the warrant has raised questions with legal experts and citizens alike. This warrant was secret until just recently and it makes internet users wonder how many of these warrants are circulating and how widespread they are becoming.

If Google is being asked for sensitive user information in connection to criminal cases, is Facebook? How about Microsoft? How broad can these warrants be?

Privacy concerns

The warrants in question are known as keyword warrants in which certain phrases or information are targeted. The government determines whether a suspect or person of interest could be identified by their search history and then outlines keywords, phrases, names, or information that someone might search if they are connected to the case. The warrant then asks companies like Google to provide the IP address, physical address, and name of the person doing the searching so they can be further investigated by the FBI.

This is information that Google normally keeps to itself. But just like the metadata mining that the government was doing during the height of the War on Terror, it seems as though more information is being kept on file by these companies than most people are comfortable with.

Innocent crossfire

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the use of these warrants is having innocent web browsers caught up in investigations. Names are specific but they are also extremely common. Even names that people think are uncommon often are…



Grant Piper

Thought provoking articles, when time and payouts permit it.