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Google tracking a bike ride past a burglarized home made the rider a suspect (nbcnews.com)
519 points by oftenwrong 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 394 comments

Even before all of this tech, if you looked suspicious you would get stopped or worse. A story was when I moved to a different state, I went out walking in my new area. Exploring the suburbs. I had brought a book with me, and it was starting to rain. I kept my book under my shirt to protect it. As I went home, I was suddenly stopped by four police cars; apparently a resident thought my book was a gun, and I was casing the area or something and the suburb I walked through must have been worried about crime. It was darkly funny to show them my book, which was a defense of political civility. It stopped me from walking there, though, as long as i lived there.

I think one aspect of this is the surprise that an engineer would get swept up in this, but this isn't really something that can be solved by tech.

>>Even before all of this tech, if you looked suspicious you would get stopped or worse.

Tech is IMPROVING our lives. Software is an enabler, it solves our problems. If the software is making our problems worse, then there is something wrong with the software, we fix the software. But the issue here isn't the software, the issue here is privacy invasion. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy aren't comprehensive enough to inform users what they are doing or how and when they are collecting their personal data.

From the story “I didn’t realize that by having location services on that Google was also keeping a log of where I was going, I’m sure it’s in their terms of service but I never read through those walls of text, and I don’t think most people do either.” McCoy said.

Steve Jobs had a solution for this:

"Privacy means that people know what they’re signing up for. In plain English, and repeatedly. I believe that people are smart. Some people want to share more than others. Ask them...Make them tell you to stop asking them. Let them know what you’re going to do with their data"

If it changes the phenomena that trigger false-positives of suspicion towards "was actually present near the scene of the crime" and away from "wrong skin color in the neighborhood," it can be argued the tech has improved people's lives.

The problem is that it isn't. The police have routinely conducted similar dragnets with racial profiling in the past.

Even in systems with less human intervention (e.g automated loan approval systems) bias is still being built in.

If anything this could provide people with the excuse of "see! it was the algorithm!".

>> Even in systems with less human intervention (e.g automated loan approval systems) bias is still being built in.

Just because there is bias in the system does not mean it is OK to open the floodgates and introduce more

>> If anything this could provide people with the excuse of "see! it was the algorithm!".

It doesn't work that way. First the person has to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves and hire lawyers and expert witnesses. What you are stating is just a luxury of the rich. If the new system is that rich people get extra avenues of defense, you are right.

> The police have routinely conducted similar dragnets with racial profiling in the past

How does the geofence-based system to determine whether you were in the area of a crime when it was committed know what race you are? I'm suggesting that in the absence of a tool like this, cops will use their eyeballs and knock on doors, and we already know that process is racially biased.

>>it can be argued the tech has improved people's lives.

I have a problem with general cynicism toward technology. I believe the core problem we have with tech is all about privacy.

We are on the fringe of a golden era, and we should resolve these issues about privacy and dark UX that deceive users.

We don't need to "argue" whether tech improved our lives. It already did!! When did we ever in the history of mankind had the chance to communicate, and access information in real-time?!

Software is neutral, neither good or evil. It only increases our effectiveness of what we were doing before.

It has its faults, but I really loved Adam Curtis’s documentary ‘ All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’. Full of anecdotes, but it is a fun watch!

I would modify this: Software increases our effectiveness at what it's applied to.

Sometimes, that's what we were doing before. Sometimes it isn't.

Sometimes it changes what we're doing enough that the old way becomes untenable, even if the new way is worse. Like if you take a crappy, mostly okay, sometimes terrible system and make it enough cheaper than the old system that always worked, most of the market may switch to the new shitty cheap thing.


I occasionally miss the quality of landline phone calls, for one example.

I wouldn't say software is entirely neutral. As you say, they have their faults, and some are designed in a way that lends itself to evil purposes.

Openness is the key, as the Steve Jobs quote in a parent comment is saying. Users need to know what's going on, and our clickwrap culture hasn't been cutting it these past two decades.

I don't mean to be rude, but you really haven't said much in the way of OP or the article. All you've said is that tech is good. I'm not sure anyone in this forum would disagree with that comment, but what about privacy implications, and the horrors of being hauled through the court system because some third party fingered you as being somewhere at some time.

>All you've said is that tech is good. I'm not sure anyone in this forum would disagree with that comment...

I'm sure plenty would disagree, myself included. Tech is not blanket good. It can be good, it can be bad. It depends on the tech, and even then it's not always one or the other.

I said it in the first paragraph.

“But the issue here isn't the software, the issue here is privacy invasion. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy aren't comprehensive enough to inform users what they are doing or how and when they are collecting their personal data.”

> Tech is IMPROVING our lives. Software is an enabler, it solves our problems.

Oh good. Glad to see we have that sorted out.

> Tech is IMPROVING our lives.

Yes. But not without also creating significant dangers, frictions, and negatives.

Either way, it is safe to say Tech is a magnifier. It all depends on whose hands it's in and how they're using it.

> Tech is IMPROVING our lives

Sadly, it’s also improving the police state

I didn't intend to say it was good or bad. My point is more that technology won't eliminate the kind of thing the OP suffered, because you can simply just hang around the area in a police car or ask the neighbors. It may make it more efficient, but neighbors have been calling the cops on people quite all right without cell phones.

The main issue is the nature and cost of the legal system if you are accused, which is less privacy and more protection.

I read that in his voice. Rest in peace <3

Technology is a tool, same as I can chop down a tree with an Axe, I can chop down a person.

What counts as a problem is hardly so clearly defined, usually it's a matter of politics. You say it's a privacy issue but another person could say it's a precision issue and be no less wrong. After all, had the police used a more precise form of software surveillance they probably would have been able to find the right person.

Tbf, my parents have been to the US in the 90s, and they keep saying that the most bizarre part of that trip was that they were stopped by a random police officer and questioned who they were and what they were doing because they "looked suspicious".

So not, it's not normal by any measure. It's just America.

There are so many stories of people becoming a suspect just because a neighbor named them, or they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, or other kinds of random coincidence.

At the end of the day, the hope is that the evidence is taken in the right context and proper investigation will catch the right person. Unfortunately, especially in this era of True Crime documentaries, we've seen it go awry one too many time, and people are rightly scared that they may be next.

>> if you looked suspicious you would get stopped or worse.

Off topic, but remember when Bob Dylan was picked up by cops, mistaken for a homeless man in Long Beach, NJ when he walked up to a house for sale?


Not to trivialize the subject, this is literally the only funny story I've heard about this kind of thing

You honestly do not see the difference between your story and this one?

You do not see the difference between being actively observed, vs having your movements recorded 24/7 to then be gone over in retrospect weeks, months, or years later?

Really, there is no difference in your mind here?

Similar situation happened to me. There were multiple burglaries in my neighborhood, and I was coming home from school wearing a hoodie, and 2 officers jumped out of an unmarked vehicle, and slammed me on the hood, cuffed me, and began searching my backpack.

This article brings up one of the biggest problems I have with our justice system. When someone is falsely suspected or accused of a crime, they typically have to hire a lawyer and take time off work and out of their lives. This can cost thousands of dollars that many people can't really afford to spend. The police or court may eventually say, "oops, our bad," but the accused typically has no way to recover what they spent on their own defense. The whole situation is asymmetric given that investigators, courts, and prosecution don't have to spend personal funds to conduct investigations and try people in court.

My sister is a lawyer who works with poor clients with criminal cases (though not a defense attorney). She believes strongly that most people are better off with their public defender than with private council. I asked her if she could square this with the general perception that the criminal justice system is stacked for with wealthy, she answered that the, most of the time, the connections matter more than the actual money. There are a lot of bad private lawyers out there, and it's hard for most people to tell them apart from the good ones. For a lot of us here, if we suddenly need a lawyer, then we'll ask our friends and family to help us find a good one. But if you don't know anybody who knows anybody who knows a lawyer, what do you do? Look at online reviews? If I were freaked out about criminal charges, needed a lawyer now, and didn't have my connections, it'd be up to blind luck. That's the reality for most criminal defendants.

They'll hire private council and think that because they're paying for it, it's better. But it's often not. For a typical defendant with an aggravated assault charge, a public defender has handled dozens of similar cases before. Moreover, they'll have done it with your judge and your prosecutor. A private lawyer probably won't have that. Granted, this probably holds a lot less for the HN comments section.

I'll add that there is no right to defense council for civil cases. These can have consequences just as dire as a criminal case, as in immigration or eviction proceedings. An indigent defendant with no lawyer has a very poor chance. There's a movement to create this right [1]. The current Supreme Court, however, seems more likely to weaken Gideon v. Wainwright than expand it.

Responding to the point about what you are supposed to do if you need a lawyer and don't know any - I needed a lawyer once and didn't know any. I first read about what I was accused of, I read the relevant parts of the law I was accused of violating, and then I googled and read whatever I could about the crime. I then looked up local lawyers and read their websites and bios and googled them to see if there was anything to read about them.

Background research done I created a list of lawyers I wanted to talk to and called them one by one and discussed the case over the phone. The crime I was accused of was somewhat rare and none of the five lawyers I called were familiar with it. I could tell fairly quickly that several of the lawyers were, for lack of a better term, bullshitting me about their familiarity with crime because I had first done the basic research so I had some understanding of what was reasonable to say about it. One lawyer was obviously reading passages from wikipedia verbatim to me, which I recognized having recently read the same wikipedia article myself. Another lawyer didn't seem to listen to me - after hearing my story he confidently assured me he could get the charge reduced... to what I was already charged with. Others just didn't seem that competent.

The lawyer I ultimately went with was a former prosecutor, which I liked because I figured it meant he would know the other prosecutors, and he was the only one who, when I called him, said "I don't know much about this. Let me do some reading and call you back." I immensely respected that more than the people who tried to pretend like they knew what they were talking about.

Ultimately, we had an extremely successful result and now if anyone I know ever needs a lawyer, I have one to recommend. It may be a bit harder if you don't have connections, but there is no reason why the average person retaining a lawyer can't go through the effort of finding one they are comfortable with.

there is no reason why the average person retaining a lawyer can't go through the effort of finding one they are comfortable with.

You are vastly overestimating the ability of an "average" person to be able to understand and analyze legal complications for themselves. The average person, for example, does not have a college degree [1], let alone a degree in a technical subject that has trained them in analytic reasoning.

[1] Only 37% of people age 25-30 in the US have a bachelors: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_attainment_in_the_...

And a bachelors tells us very little.

> but there is no reason why the average person retaining a lawyer can't go through the effort of finding one they are comfortable with.

I'm sorry, but this is laughably out of touch with reality for the "average person".

You just explained why the average person can't find one they are comfortable with by detailing the amount of research you had to do. And you didn't bring up the financial aspect of it all either. I may find a lawyer that can make the charge go away, but my wallet may say otherwise.


To be fair, the lawyers who are below average often end up in other places rather than representing clients in court.

It used to be people would talk about the hellish conditions doing hourly document review, but that got offshored years ago, so I'm not sure what the situation is now.

Learning react at a bootcamp and becoming a front end developer?

One of the client managers where I used to work (litigation support) is in fact getting a CS degree.

Finding a good lawyer is hard, but to your point about public defenders having more relevant experience, there’s a simple heuristic: ask the lawyers you interview what direct experience they have. If you have an aggravated assault charge, and your potential private lawyer has done many DUIs but only one of those, move on.

A public defender might not be _bad_, but in many jurisdictions they are egregiously overworked. Their case load is so over burdened they don’t have the time to do a thorough job. I’d much rather take my chances with a paid lawyer.

I think this post has a big misconception in it. Public defenders are for the destitute. You have to ask for one, and convince a judge that based on your assets and income, you can't afford a private attorney. There's no choice here, if you can afford a private defense, you won't be given a public defender.

I think this depends on the state, I think in a lot of states getting a public defender is just based on the Judge saying that in the case you cannot afford a lawyer one will be appointed for you and then asking if you need a lawyer appointed. Sure, if you're Bill Gates and you say yes, he might shut that down but the average person I don't think most jurisdictions actually investigate their means.

I am not a lawyer, but if you have the means and say you don't I am pretty sure thats perjury.

And then you need ANOTHER more expensive lawyer, so you get a second chance at not being able to afford both lawyers.

Ok, but I'm pretty sure that perjury is generally understood as being under oath and you aren't under oath when the judge is first reading you the charges against you and offering you the recourse of a public defender.

Although I suppose the court could hold you in contempt if it found you had the means and said you didn't. But I've never seen or heard of anyone being means checked.

Is your comment based on experience? It seems wrong.

All the search results (Findlaw, Avvo lawyer answers, etc) seem to be saying that you have to qualify financially, you have to submit your income and assets of your household under penalty of perjury (signed statement, not oath) and you may also be asked to get quotes from lawyers to compare against your means. I think the most you could say is that courts are so overloaded you might get away with perjury.

A few sample links:





I qualified my original statement by saying "I think this depends on the state". Although now that I think of it, the laws in the states I know also say you can be made to pay back the costs if it is determined you could afford an attorney, however I have never seen anything done about it.

So I think you're right, it is perjury that doesn't really get anything done about it - I think based on the idea that if you had the money to get an attorney you would do it so anyone saying they can't get an attorney doesn't have the money.

I did a bit of digging and found some (old) data to (largely) back me up! The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report in 2000 [2] on "Defense Counsel in Criminal Cases". The following points are for defendants in state court in the 75 largest counties. The report has data for Federal defendants, too, and the broader picture looks pretty similar for them. According to the report, only 5% of criminal cases are in Federal courts.

- Felony defendants were represented by publicly-financed attorneys over 80%(!) of the time.

- Defendants with public and private attorneys had similar conviction rates. They pled out at similar rates, too.

- Defendants with public attorneys were more likely to get prison sentences, but got shorter sentences on average.

- Defendants with private attorneys who were already in prison (i.e., convicted) talked to their lawyers earlier and more often. The part about prison just seems to be because that's where they collected the data.

- Defendants with public attorneys got pretrial release a lot less often (50% vs 80%) than those with private attorneys. This looks to me like it's mostly about not being able to afford bail.

- Workloads for Federal appointed attorneys rose faster than spending on them. I would guess the same to be true of state courts and for the trend to have continued to today.

[1] http://civilrighttocounsel.org/, the civil right to counsel I forgot in my post.

[2] https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/dccc.pdf 2000 appears to be the most recent report on this subject. It's possible they've collected more recent data elsewhere and I didn't turn it up.

I hate to point out the obvious, but you can't say anything meaningful about the effectiveness of lawyers without separating their clients into the ones that were guilty and the ones that weren't. It's very probably a wrong assumption that public and private lawyers have the same percentage split. And if the system actually worked, then a good lawyer shouldn't affect the conviction rate of the guilty...

A convict might be guilty of a lesser crime than he was charged with.

This is very insightful and makes a ton of sense.

I'm not related to the company, but this is exactly what avvo.com is solving. I have known others to use it for traffic infractions all the way to criminal defence. In general they speak positively about the experience.

I don't know any particular lawyer's connections, but I can see the reviews/self-reported-track records.

But, this creates a new problem - gamification of reviews. But now that it's in the "reviews" space, I know how to at least manage that problem as opposed to something I know zero about such as judging a lawyer's relationships and effectiveness.

Though one’s right to a public defender only applies once you’ve been charged, right? In TFA, the guy being investigated was only the subject of a warrant.

I believe you have the right to a public defender during questioning (which can happen both before and after you are charged) based on the wording of the Miranda warning:

>You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.


Federal public defenders have a very good reputation. State public defenders, less so. Mostly because many public defenders offices are deeply underfunded.

I can’t disagree with this more. Public Defenders are overworked and underfunded. They have a high case load and are usually just interested in getting their clients to plea. Why would I put my life in the hands of someone paid by the same government trying to convict me if I could afford a private attorney?

Ok, but having a public defender because you've been accused of burglarizing a house because you drove by it on your bike and google tracked the trip might not be that good since the public defender is generally focused on cutting a deal. Getting a deal cut with a public defender might be better than private but going to court under these specific circumstances?

I think the typical concern is that caseload usually doesn't permit a public defender to mount a defense, only to negotiate a plea agreement. Those connections will be useful in negotiation. But you are probably not getting evidence thrown out, private investigators, expert witnesses, etc.

>There are a lot of bad private lawyers out there, and it's hard for most people to tell them apart from the good ones.

Is that not the case for public defenders too?

Obviously - people with money have far better connections.

if you have money, is a public defender even an option?

It's worse. They can blow up your infant children with explosives because they got the wrong house, and suffer no consequences:


Policing in the US is entirely out of control.

US police can rape women on the job and walk with a suspended sentence: https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/crime/2020/01/31/-/46...

That shapes the culture. It's kind of anti-Spiderman. With great powers comes no responsibility at all.

As an Eastern European with some experience with autocratic government I quite look up to the U.S. as to a champion of democratic culture, but among two major things that baffle me (healthcare being the other) is why there is such a high cost associated with litigation even for the innocent party. In continental Europe, the "loser pays" principle seems to hold quite well, while also having the benefit of discouraging people from frivolous lawsuits.

>In continental Europe, the "loser pays" principle seems to hold quite well

It apparently holds in every western democracy except for the United States of America.


Imagine suing General Motors because of a faulty car. General Motors hires an army of experts and the best attorneys. In the event of loser pays, the apparent victim is now on the hook for perhaps a million dollars. That would shut down all legitimate product liability lawsuits in an instant.

There is a game-theoretic optimal solution to this:

The loser must pay up to the amount they themselves spent on prosecuting the case, but no more.

So General Motors would have to pay the full cost of the plaintiff's litigation if they lost, while the plaintiff would have to pay their costs, plus an equivalent amount to GM.

This is of course independent of compensation and damages awarded.

Which is why there is a definition of reasonable costs, and that's what you get reimbursed.

And if that is a million dollars, in that case: Should someone be able to cause a million dollars' worth of damage with a frivolous lawsuit without being liable for it?

Patent trolls are one of the things that would work significantly less well in a loser-pays scenario.

Or to turn your example around: If the car hasn't killed me and I just want my money back, should I be forced to just eat the loss because even if I win, the legal costs will be higher?

>Patent trolls are one of the things that would work significantly less well in a loser-pays scenario.

I'm not sure how that would matter. The patent troll sues 100 companies. Has to pay the legal fees for the 100 processes because all of them have been initiated by the patent troll. The patent troll wins 30 cases.

In the American system the patent troll already included the legal fees in his calculations and optimized them for profit but the victims are always stuck with legal fees even if they win. The patent troll basically causes a minimum amount of damage regardless of the outcome. The legal fees are often close to $0 for the patent troll because merely the act of receiving a letter from a lawyer scares startups into paying the settlement fees. Losing a month or two can be devastating for a young company but they can easily recover from losing $20k if it means that they can run their business with no distractions.

In the loser pays scenario the patent troll's legal fees would be completely unpredictable in the 70 cases. Losing 70 times might result in bankruptcy of the patent troll and the majority of victims would not be burdened by legal fees.

This sub thread is making the assumption that the innocent legal entities (= person or company) are on the losing end but if patent trolls had to be 100% sure that their patents are valid then there would be significantly fewer of them. For the few patent trolls that remain you can't argue that they shouldn't have the right to protect their patents. The patent system might be broken but if you can't enforce patents in valid situations then why even bother with the system?

What GM argues is reasonable could be many millions of dollars -- they could be liable for hundreds of millions of dollars depending on the severity. A judge isn't going to make them work with just 2 associates.

Your first question ("Should someone be able to...") is a false dichotomy. The real question is whether we show a preference for being able to sue easily, versus adding more downside.

In America, consumer protection is done through lawsuits, especially since the current leadership is underfunding these groups. In general, companies have less approvals before launching a product under the assumption that negligence will cost them a ton of money in class action. That is why class action amounts can be so high - it's the dis-incentive for cutting corners.

Yes, patent trolls are an issue. I think there are better ways to reduce that impact (such as a sensible patent system) without harming consumers.

Well, that's assuming that legitimate product liability lawsuits lose in the court.

Just because you are right doesn't guarantee you'll win. You feeling lucky?

With our existing system, you have to ask the same question every time you sue anybody, or do something that might cause somebody else to sue you, because you can get financially ruined even if you win.

The problem with the English Rule is that it protects the rich.

No, it does not, its exactly the other way around. English Rule protects the innocent, who did not commit a crime, as they'll eventually win the case.

American Rule protects the rich (and those in power, such as police, public prosecutor, etc), as it allows them to bully the poor who can't afford a lawyer, or lose so much money that their interests are harmed. A clear example of that is patent trolls.

The rich can afford in either system, but the poor can only afford in English Rule. It should not be about poor vs rich but about truth (ie. guilty vs innocent).

How does loser-pays protect the poor? As noted above, unless you have significant resources, bringing suit against a large corporate entity is extremely risky, as you could get stuck paying for their army of lawyers, paralegals, and investigators.

In the US system, a poor person can bring suit, using a lawyer working on contingency, and not fear for being stuck should they lose.

Your argument seems to hinge on the "correct" party always winning, but that's far from the case.

With loser pays, bringing a suit is risky (with the risk depending on the risk of losing the suit).

With the US system, there is no way to get justice in many cases, even when you're obviously right, because the (non-recoverable) legal costs exceed the amount by which you have been wronged (and the opponent knows that).

This is IMO part of the problem with common law: the judge rarely inquires into matters before them, instead relying on arguments presented by lawyers, so the party which can afford better lawyers tends to win.

In continental law, judges role is more like an investigator; his/hers role is to establish the facts of the case and to apply the provisions of the code. They are the ones questioning witnesses.

See also: https://onlinelaw.wustl.edu/blog/common-law-vs-civil-law/

If you can't afford an attorney, you can get one appointed, it is like that in every system AFAIK.

> Your argument seems to hinge on the "correct" party always winning, but that's far from the case.

Of course it does.

If the correct party does not usually win (with a few exceptions, being rounding errors) then your legal system, and democracy, is indeed very much broken.

If the police bust someone for murder, and this person gets sued, gets a fair trial, and gets incarcerated in jail for murder we, civilians/voters, must be able to assume that the system worked correctly. If this is not the case, if it is "normal" (too high percentage) innocent people get behind bars, that is a high priority problem. There's always going to be false positives, sure, but in general we must be able to assume one is a true positive.

Now, in English law the poor could sue, and win, if they're in the right. In American law, they can't afford a lawsuit. If they get sued for whatever, they'll be more likely to settle, without being on the good end of the stick. I can only define that as class justice.

There are limits to the claims, btw [1] [2]. Also, the amounts have to be reasonable.

Also, I believe @xyzal is correct in describing the difference between civil and common law. The problem you described is much less of a problem in civil law.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costs_in_English_law#Exception...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costs_in_English_law#Who_can_c...?

If you can't afford an attorney, you can get one appointed,

In the US, that only applies to indigent defendants in criminal cases. It does not apply to anybody with any semblance of financial stability and does not apply to anybody in civil cases.

Is it different abroad?

An innocent poor person doesn't bring up a suit against a large corporate entity. Why? Because only defendants can be innocent or guilty.

This focus on small people suing big corporations is absolutely insane.

I used to work in litigation support and something that stuck in my mind was an article some years ago in a trade magazine about how a new trend in venture capital from the UK was funding American lawsuits.

I always think of that when someone is sneering at the American legal system or blaming Americans for everything they interact with globally.

> as they'll eventually win the case.

Citation needed.

> In continental Europe, the "loser pays" principle seems to hold quite well, while also having the benefit of discouraging people from frivolous lawsuits.

You'd think the people who came up with it had never played Scrabble, where you lose a turn for a false dictionary challenge.

> I quite look up to the U.S. as to a champion of democratic culture

It really isn't. Look towards Scandinavian countries for that.

Scandinavian here. Keep looking.

What are the ills there?

> The United Nations’ ruling that Sweden violated the global torture ban

which has nothing to do with democracy.

Switzerland probably remains the champion.

Or Finland.

One of those went cashless... do I need to say more?


And this applies to the whole justice system, regardless if it's a criminal or civil issue.

In civil cases this is used as leverage by wealthy people. The wealthy can sustain a legal battle for as long as they want. They know that if their opponent isn't as wealthy, they'll be forced to settle, even for an unreasonable amount, just because they won't be able to afford defending themselves properly.

For reference, a decent civil attorney in a major city in California will charge $250-500/hour, which ends up being around $5k/month to defend pretty much any civil lawsuit. A lawsuit that goes to trial will take 18-24 months, so you'll end up paying $90-120k just in legal fees. There will also be $10-20k in additional court fees and other expenses, not to mention your time.

At the end of the day, if you defend a civil lawsuit and you flawlessly "win" the case, after about 2 years of manufactured stress, you'll be down $100-150k.

That's what it costs to prove you are innocent and walk away "free" (free to be sued again).

Btw, in civil cases, if you cannot afford a lawyer, the system won't appoint one for you, you will have to defend yourself (which judges and lawyers hate, and will very much play against you in court).

Also, even if you can represent yourself, the court fees won't necessarily be waived ($2-3k), and you'll have to fund your own discovery (which can be insanely expensive, depending on the case).

Then if you are defending as a corporation (llc, c corp, etc), you must have a lawyer. So basically if someone knows that your company cannot afford to hire a lawyer, they can sue you and force you to pay up or go bankrupt - then during bankruptcy they can keep going after you personally, and even after bankruptcy they can sue you again.

In civil cases this is used as leverage by wealthy people. The wealthy can sustain a legal battle for as long as they want. They know that if their opponent isn't as wealthy, they'll be forced to settle, even for an unreasonable amount, just because they won't be able to afford defending themselves properly.

Hmm. Every civil case I've been involved with was decided not by relative wealth, but by the strength of the case. In every case, the less wealthy party won, and the wealthy party got stuck with legal fees. In many cases, the less wealthy person was represented by a lawyer who was paid mostly on contingency.

If both parties have enough money to litigate, the relative wealth might not matter as much.

But if one of the parties cannot afford to litigate, they are screwed.

Considering that 40% of Americans can't even afford a $400 unexpected expense[0], it means most people are extremely vulnerable to legal liability, as they would barely be able to afford maybe 1 hour of consulting with a lawyer.

My guess is that you've mostly dealt with people and companies that had the money to go through the legal system. Most people don't.

Also, in my experience, it is very (extremely?) rare to find a lawyer that will work on a contingency basis, especially on short notice. So unless you know it's coming, and you've already spent the time to interview a bunch of lawyers (most of which are not even going to give you the time of day without having an open case) ahead of time, then you'll most likely be out of luck when you get served and have 30 days to respond (and if you don't respond they get a default judgement against you).

You just can't deny that the (American) legal system is, in practice, based on money and resources, rather than on justice and fairness.

0: https://abcnews.go.com/US/10-americans-struggle-cover-400-em...

"Considering that 40% of Americans can't even afford a $400 unexpected expense"

That's based on the idea that people who put a random $400 expense on a credit card that they pay off next month "can't afford" it.

Stereotypes are horrible and often used as an substitute for reason. Lawyers will take a solid case on contingency especially against "deep pockets". People have families and friends. People can change their spending habits. Courts exist to bring disputes to a just resolution. The whole meme that justice is only for the rich and average people can't fend for themselves is intellectually lazy and relies on generalization.

Well, my personal experience is in direct opposition to what you are exposing here.

I've been dealing with a vindictive plaintiff for a few years now.

No lawyer will take a case on a contingency basis, especially against a plaintiff with "deep pockets", if there's no money to be made (which is usually the case when you are on the defending side).

Let me illustrate, let's say a company gets a loan from a creditor, then the company fails to pay, the creditor sues, the company doesn't have the money to pay.

At this point lawyers see that there's no money to be made and will rarely touch the case. The defendant is out of luck and will most likely have to file for bankruptcy (which at the minimum will cost $10-15k in legal fees, so it might not even be an option).

As long as the creditor wants to keep spending money, they can keep going after the company, its founders and directors. Most lawyers will say that it doesn't make sense because the creditor is very unlikely to recover anything. But if the creditor still wants to spend the money, the defendants will be forced to keep paying to defend themselves for as long as the creditor attacks them, even if they didn't do anything wrong or ilegal and they prevail in the end.

So most lawyers will recommend to settle and pay the creditor, because you'll have to spend about $100k defending yourself anyway, hence you might as well pay that in a settlement and not go through trial. Lawyers will also note that 90%+ of cases settle. In the end the company officials/founders might unfairly pay a bunch of money to someone, just so they can get rid of them.

Then, even after the defendants pay, everyone might have lost a bunch of money and not found any justice whatsoever.

Now, regardless of the example above. It costs about $5k to file a lawsuit and about $50-150k to go through with it. How many people have the means to pay for that? I'd say very few.

People can be awful, I learned that at my first customer service job.

However, from 40,000 feet, one might listen to your story and think, ok, you took money from someone and didn't give it back, and now you're being inconvenienced and harassed, and this is supposed to be a major societal problem? What about people that get sent to prison for stealing the same or less money? Or a candy bar?

To be sure, I can imagine being in the same place, and I can imagine dealing with a crazy/obsessive litigant and being very unhappy about it. But if it were me, I wouldn't expect people to sympathize or agree that it's a problem with society.

The problem with society is not that people can be sued for a loan.

The problem with the legal system is that if you get sued, for pretty much anything, you'll need to spend several thousands of dollars, regardless if you are actually liable or not.

And if you want to sue someone, it will cost you several thousand too.

40% of people in the US cannot afford a $400 unexpected expense. That means that a huge portion of the population, is extremely susceptible to any legal issues, as they won't be able to properly use the legal system to fairly represent them and seek proper justice/relief. Ie. If those people get sued, they'll most likely not be able to afford defending the lawsuit - or if someone did something to them, they won't have the money to sue them.

A proper legal system should not discriminate by level of wealth and should represent everyone equally.

"40% of people in the US cannot afford a $400 unexpected expense"

It's my understanding that is a bullshit statistic as I said in another comment. I can't afford an unexpected expense of $400 right now, in the sense that if I really have to pay that bill immediately, I'm going to put it on a credit card. That doesn't make me financially strained.

This is literally the exact opposite of my past experience as a trial lawyer.

The strength of the parties cases matters 10000x more than the amount of money they had. In fact, excessive spending was usually associated with worsened outcomes for the spending party.

You are right, if the defending party has enough money to defend, then the case will mostly be decided on the abilities/experience of the lawyers and the merits of each side.

But what happens when the defendant just simply doesn't have the money to defend themselves in court?

Have you represented a client in court for free for 2 years and paid for their court fees and discovery?

You've also probably dealt mostly with relatively rational people in good faith. But when you have someone who's very vindictive or irrational, acting in bad faith and with a lot of money, it can be terrifying to be on the receiving end, and you can feel absolutely hopeless if you don't have the knowledge or money to defend.

That's an interesting argument. In the "loser pays" system lawyers are encouraged to take on cases even if the defendant can't afford the legal fees. From the perspective of a lawyer an innocent defendant is basically a cash cow.

Can you share your data? Are you sure of the direction of causality, unbiased conditioning, and magnitude of impact? If I were really wrong, I'd want to spend a lot of money so soften my outcomes, even if the result is still worse than if I weren't wrong. You need to condition on guilt before comparing outcomes.

My data is actual real world experience.

There are studies out there confirming my experience but as I don't currently have access to a law library you'll have to look them up on your own.

There's also the fact that the courts are driven by narratives; the prosecution just needs a credible story to tell, and doesn't have much of an incentive to find out the truth - it's up to the defense to tell the counter-narrative.

Over time, as more tools become available to find people with precise overlaps with a crime, the stronger the narrative is for innocent people (as well as the guilty). IMO a more inquisitorial approach which tests the counterfactual of each evidentiary point rather than relying solely on defense ought to hold up better in the future.

I doubt better surveillance tools will lead to more accurate prosecutions unless individuals also have direct access to the tools.

Police and prosecutors in the US are notorious for leaving out evidence that exonerates the accused, even though they are supposedly required to provide the defense with all evidence relevant to the case.

Also, well-connected victims’ cases are investigated much more carefully than normal victims.

For instance, some SFO luggage handlers were stealing stuff from bags. People repeatedly reported them to the police, but nothing happened until they stole from a retired cop. An investigation was launched and they were arrested the next week.

Similarly (based on personal experience with multiple incidents in multiple cities with multiple victims), they normally won’t bother to pull location database records for successful burglaries, even if they have exact timestamps of the incident (up to and including video), even in remote areas in the middle of the night involving literal truckloads of loot (where the location records would be a slam dunk, and the evidence would take a while to dispose of).

It also happens with taxes.

Tax agencies target people and companies that don't have the means to defend themselves, because then they can collect on them. Whereas they usually stay away from wealthy/legally savvy individuals/companies, because the cost/benefit of going after them is not worth it.

A few years ago there was a big push in California to go after food trucks. They were the perfect target, small businesses run by individuals or families with few resources or legal sophistication. At some point the media got involved, as well as some advocacy groups. The issue ended with the BOE (California's tax agency), changing the way food trucks had to calculate, report and collect their sales tax. However, many non-wealthy food truck owners ended up with very unfair personal tax liabilities in the thousands of dollars, which they might still be paying today.

I was involved in defending one of these food trucks and putting together their case. They were being assed $60k in taxes and being proposed a payment plan that would have meant them paying a total of around $100k over the course of 10 years. In the end the liability was reassessed to $0. At the beginning of the dispute, every accountant and tax lawyer consulted said the tax liability was unavoidable. Tax agencies are scary.

I would also add: Immediate judgement by people online who read headlines and make up their minds. The media will never report on dropped charges as much as they do an arrest. Stigma will live on via Google search forever, because you know "Free speech" and all.

The media will never report on dropped charges as much as they do an arrest.

They will do that from time to time, if you are wealthy and well-connected enough. We had a case like that at my institution, an attempted rape. Don't rely on the government for protection, arm up.

It's because our justice system is an instrument of the wealthy. It works for them with little friction, and it doesn't work for most people without disrupting our lives, or even ruining them (e.g. bails and bonds that most people can't afford to pay).

>The whole situation is asymmetric given that investigators, courts, and prosecution don't have to spend personal funds to conduct investigations and try people in court.

It's worse than that.

Litigation is literally what puts bread on their tables.

They are rewarded financially for inconveniencing the layperson and making them jump through the hoops they have built.

One of the ways people have tried to solve this is with legislation that requires the public defenders office to be funded at the same level as the Prosecutors office.

it will not eliminate the inequality, for sure, but it would be a step in the right direction and in some area's the public defenders get less than a dime for ever dollar the Prosecutors office receives in public funding

If companies want to collect and amass surveillance data for profit, they should be the ones providing compensation for abuses their data hording enables.

> don't have to spend personal funds

No, they spend taxpayers funds!

May be some kind of insurance product to protect and cover costs in such no-fault cases should cover it.

In theory, this is why there are stages with increasingly-high standards. Hearings, grand juries, etc.

In practice it doesn't always hold up very well.

Do you have an alternative suggestion? Would the government always pay for the entire defense? Or reimburse if the accused is acquitted?

This is also why gun violence restraining orders are bad. Large costs to the defendent with no standards or hearing or even an accusation of a crime.

In most democracies if you loose a court case you have to pay all the legal fees, plus damages and reimbursements to the other party. This holds true in criminal or personal cases, and even when the loosing party is the government or the police.

> you have to pay all the legal fees

"Reasonable fees". If You sue me, I win and my lawyer sends me a bill for a billion euros that I pass on to you, no judge will consider that valid.

As for damages and reimbursements: hardly. If you arrest a highly paid consultant and keep him in jail during his trial, he's not getting paid his hourly fee * 24 * days in jail.

* I’m definitely sorry that happened to her, and I’m glad police were trying to solve it,” McCoy said. “But it just seems like a really broad net for them to cast. What’s the cost-benefit? How many innocent people do we have to harass?”*

I understand he doesn’t have the resources to fight the constitutionality of the whole process. This quote is why ACLU, EFF, and others need to work together to take it up further. Stop the police from continuing the habit of just sweeping people’s data and worry about the details later.

There is no constitutional issue in this case. This person gave their information to Google and Google was asked for the information. There is no 4th Amendment protection for information a person gives to someone else. The ACLU, EFF, and others have nothing to take further.

The third party doctrine is badly outdated in the modern world where third parties hold immense volumes of information about our locations and interactions. Since it was a court ruling that brought the doctrine into being, the passage of legislation or further court rulings can overturn it or reduce the scope. There is absolutely work for groups like the ACLU and EFF to do here.

Here in Canada several of our wireless providers banded together to fight an incredibly broad request for information about everyone hitting particular cell towers during a robbery. The crown tried to simply drop the request when challenged, but thankfully the judge didn't let them off so easily. The court issued some rather strict requirements for similar requests.


Judicial oversight requirements should be strict, but it should absolutely be a police investigation tool. Calling it "dragnet" to imply dystopian surveillance is silly. Oversight is the crux of the issue, not the tool itself.

Legislation requiring mandatory ability of carriers to track mobile phones by location was passed in 1999 in the US[1], almost a decade before the 'modern smartphone' existed. The broader issues still apply whether or not someone opted in to google location services or not.


Geofence requests also require two warrants. The first warrant retrieves a list of locatuons for pseudonymous phones in a bounded area during a bounded time. The second request reveals the identity of select phones. Each time you need to convince a judge to grant the warrant. Acording to this article, it looks like the suspect has an opportunity to contest the second request.

This isn't covert mass surveillance. We already allow law enforcement to search more private spaces with a warrant, so this doesn't seem like a stretch.

The problem with this geofencing approach is that it gives too much and too little information at the same time. A list with contact details of many people but no way to find the perpetrator.

The police have far too much power in this. The police should only have the power to name a suspect and then request a single GPS fix in a window of their choosing. Anything else requires more judges to sign off. This power of dragnet, "give me everyone within 200 feet of this property in the last 48 hours" is just astoundingly one-sided.

They did go to a jduge.

>...Gainesville police, looking for leads, went to an Alachua County judge with the warrant for Google.

I know they do- that's not the point. It's that you can goto a judge without knowing WHO you are asking for information on. The judge should have to see a suspect's name, information supporting why they are a suspect, etc. Not "gimme everything on everyone in this radius and this timeframe"

Why? They use it to compile a witness list, maybe suspect list, rule out many people, as a first approximation. As long as the data is archived and not open for abusive use; where do you feel any harm comes in?

"Somebody walked by the outside of a house where a 97-year-old said something was stolen" wasn't previously sufficient grounds to search every document you had ever written or received, but now it is.

Sure it was, if they walked/biked by the house 3 times in close succession around the time of the burglary. A completely legitimate reason to make him a person of interest and interview him. If he was picked up on a neighbour's door cam, this wouldn't even be on the news.

Because such information should only be used to confirm as specific person was present, not to dragnet a bunch of innocents.

Because it costs each innocent victim tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves. If they are poor, they may have no defense. Next, they are plea bargaining to a crime they didn’t commit because that is the only reasonable option left.

It doesn't though. Hiring a lawyer was his choice. Location tracker data alone is not enough for him to be even a suspect, just a person of interest. And it's the tracker data that shows police that his passing the house 3 times around the time of the burglary (which is a completely legitimate reason to question someone) is in keeping with his usual routine and thus exonerates him.

>> "and thus exonerates him"

How does this exonerate him if he has no lawyer to go thru the procedural efforts? You are right that hiring a lawyer is a choice, in as much as going to prison is a choice.

>How does this exonerate him if he has no lawyer to go thru the procedural efforts?

Because police would likely not even contact him in the first place once they see that there's nothing extraordinary about his movements.

When you use a geofence you have a witness list of mostly innocent people. You can't rule out anyone because that information requires a warrant. The end result? Warrants on random people and most of them are innocent. The entire system is broken and was never going to work.

Have you heard the term "General Warrant", in Colonial times general warrant was issued by the Crown granting law-enforcement broad discretion or authority to search and seize unspecified places or persons.

This is plainly a type of General Warrant, something that was banned under the US Constitution

>>The police have far too much power in this.

Why it's not the case that Google has too much power in this, by collecting data from their users without asking their permission?

> by collecting data from their users without asking their permission

It is my understanding that Google Location services asks before storing this data. My fear is that by writing blanket untrue statements like this, people that don't know better just read it as fact, and spread it.

Disclaimer: Work at Google (in a different space), but everything I write here is my own opinions/views.

>>My fear is that by writing blanket untrue statements like this, people that don't know better just read it as fact, and spread it.

You are right! "people that don't know better" should do their own research on whether Google Location services ask for their permission.

Here are few links:

"Google records your location even when you tell it not to" https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/aug/13/google-lo...

"Google Collected Data on Schoolchildren Without Permission" https://www.wired.com/2015/12/google-collected-data-on-schoo...

"More than 1,000 Android apps harvest data even after you deny permissions" https://www.cnet.com/news/more-than-1000-android-apps-harves...

"Thousands of Android apps can track your phone — even if you deny permissions" https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/8/20686514/android-covert-ch...

IMO, the articles have a bunch of nuance, but the titles are a bit click-baity. E.g. from the last article "Thousands of Android apps can track your phone -- even if you deny permissions". If you just read the title, one could possibly conclude that an app can just use the location API to get location data it was denied. However, when you read the article, you end up scenarios like this:

"The study also singles out photo app Shutterfly for sending actual GPS coordinates back to its servers without getting permission to track locations — by harvesting that data from your photos’ EXIF metadata — though the company denied that it gathers that data without permission in a statement to CNET."

Which is much more nuanced. Some would even consider it as a bug since it is coming from a side-channel. Also the article mentions that a lot of these things are being fixed with newer versions of Android (Q in this case).

However, by just quoting click-baity headlines, it gives the false impression that these products are purposely built to intrude on privacy.

Your understanding may be legally correct but is pragmatically incorrect.

“Normals” in no way understand they are consenting to this, and further, your employer continues to tighten the noose on users who did understand and turned it off, that products will no longer work without this data.

To be clear, Google has the right to demand location data as payment for services rendered.

>>Google has the right to demand location data as payment for services rendered.

Sure, just let them be clear about it. By clear, I don't mean they mention it in the last line of the 29th page.

They could put it in the first line and people wouldn’t read it. Pop up fatigue is getting intense. Generally nobody reads notices anymore. They just want the content or service.

This has been the situation for years. Many times I have told novice to average users that the words on pop-ups or modals sometimes actually matter and to help solve their problems, they should try reading the words.


Turning on Location Services requires tabbing through pages of location-specific text before the OK button is enabled.

> To be clear, Google has the right to demand location data as payment for services rendered.

I like the GDPR approach where you cannot force someone to pay with their privacy. If you want to demand payment, you can demand money.

> Google Location services asks before storing this data.

It certainly does not. In fact, the general prompts are just along the lines of "Maps won't work unless Location Services is on. Turn it on? [Y/N]"

>> collecting data from their users without asking their permission?

They do, but they do it in a way that seem innocuous.

Google is heavily vertically integrated, if you want to take advantage of many features in Android, you need to "allow" location tracking and collection. Most people want to use Waze, or Maps, or Reviews of Place, etc etc etc. If you do you agree to have your location tracked

What surprises me is that somewhere there is a police department that can afford the time to investigate a $2,000 loss.

There are too many cops in the US. So they need the work. This is also why they have police cops in all schools. Which seems horrifying to anyone not from the US. (They're often on a power trip and take even the smallest opportunities to beat up kids. A web search brings up a long list of such cases.)

They are really unevenly distributed though. Many major cities are short on police, while most suburbs have plenty to spare. This has a lot of effects on day to day, for example in most cities you aren’t getting a traffic ticket unless you do something egregious, the police will see you commit a very minor offense (probably on accident), and just shrug and let it go. They have no time to spare. But in a lot of suburbs they’ll come ticket you with this attitude that they’ve saved the world from a criminal. It’s frustrating.

Perhaps there was a pattern in the area that this burglary was part of, and there was serial burglaries they were trying to stamp out.

If they don’t, then you’ll have an increase in $1999 crimes. Look at the effect of Prop 47 in California. Crime has increased.

And also cleared him, for what that's worth. If this concerns you, go [here](https://myaccount.google.com/activitycontrols) and disable location history.

Yeah, but it cost him several thousand dollars to fight something he shouldn't have had to fight.

Would we be ok if the police just randomly fined people $2000 bucks for no reason? That is basically what happened here.

He didn't have to fight them getting his location data. It was a choice he made.

Wanting privacy on your daily bikeride is a $2000 choice? Wanting to prevent police overreach into your daily life is a $2000 choice? No, not at all. Quit blaming the victim.

Personally I don't have any problem with geofenced warrants. I actually think they are a pretty great idea. So I would more say that he spent $2000 pointlessly. What would likely have happened if he hadn't fought it is the prosecutors would have gotten the data, seen who he was, and been like, nah, not our guy. They don't just go and arrest every single person who has been in a geofenced region when they get these warrants. They use it to look for who might be worth additional investigation.

You need to spend some time googling “wrongful convictions” there’s literally thousands of these cases and who knows how many we don’t know about.

The further we broaden police powers to dragnets the more innocent people will be within their crosshairs and have to be “filtered” out, often at the accused expense.

Next watch some “first day in jail” videos on Netflix and see the ridiculous stuff that gets people in scary overfilled jails, even for small even legitimate reasons and it’s enough to make it obvious there’s a serious problem with justice and law enforcement in the US.

One of the worst that affected me was an older middle class guy who ended up spending months in jail because he lost his job and at some point in the last 5yrs had a kid with some woman he met on a christian dating site who refused to have an abortion. The courts eventually ruled and said he owed $4k+ in child support in a short time span (a month?) otherwise you’re going to jail, when he was already struggling to live having lost his job. He was one of the few white guys, the stories of the black kids (most looked straight out of highschool) were often even smaller and even dumber reasons which immediately exposes them to living with other real criminals for extended periods of times which they then become friends with... etc.

The US is extremely punitive and the use of jails/prisons and stupid bail schemes is beyond excessive. That makes wrongful convictions all that much worse. Which all happens well before the trials even start.

I'm not denying the existence of false positives. They existed before geofence data and I don't think we have solid evidence on whether they are occurring more in geofence cases than they were before.

I'm not going to debate whether American jails need serious improvement. They obviously do. That's orthogonal to investigative techniques IMO.

I addressed the connection between the two multiple times in my comment. It’s highly relevant we can’t simply trust them with such a powerful tool than inherently includes countless innocent people.

I'm not sure what "two" you're referring to that you addressed the connection between. In any case I think we understand each other and just disagree, and that's fine. All the best.

The "two" are the use of technologies like geofence warrants and wrongful convictions or charges at the accused expense.

Geofence warrants seem too broad to me, providing them with access to people (and therefore probable cause for heavier warrants) merely for passing through an area of a crime.

Geofencing in this case directly led to the proper murder suspect. It was the technique that caught the right guy. The right guy was driving his relative's car and using the relative's old phone that he didn't sign out of, which led police to (entirely 100% legitimately) suspect the actual owner of both the car and the Google account. That was cleared up quite quickly, the right guy was arrested, all thanks to Good Guy Geofencing.

Where it went wrong is a completely orthogonal matter. He was kept in jail for days after it was crystal clear he's not the murderer, and his name was dragged through the mud also after that point. He's completely legitimately suing for that, and hopefully wins. But what does that have to do with a legitimate and effective use of his geolocation data? Again, a murderer is caught because of it. And then the same police department fucked up and ruined a legitimate and justified but innocent suspect's life.

> But what does that have to do with a legitimate and effective use of his geolocation data? Again, a murderer is caught because of it. And then the same police department fucked up and ruined a legitimate and justified but innocent suspect's life.

There is something fundamentally wrong with believing that the ends justify the means in these cases. As has been said, "[i]t is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstone%27s_ratio

Your argument can be applied to absolutely every investigative technique. Neighbours were interviewed, a suspect was identified, and then something went wrong for unrelated reasons. Clearly the problem is the very idea of interviewing neighbours, so we must eradicate the technique for privacy reasons, because Blackstone ratio and justice for all. The argument that this case is about police geocasting holds about as much water.

The question then becomes: How much harm will society suffer if that shoplifter got away or the murderer was not caught? In the former case, the store's insurance policy should cover the loss and prices are increased to offset the loss, and the shoplifter may do it again. In the latter case, it's possible that the murderer may kill someone else.

But the overall rate of shoplifting and murder isn't going to change substantially even if the police ruin a residence and refuse to pay for damages or arrest and jail the wrong person for a substantial period of time.

So it appears that there a negligible increase in overall risk to society and property if criminals sometimes get away, but there doesn't appear to be any substantial decrease in overall risk to them if they're caught at great cost to certain innocent individuals.

In other words, there's really no difference on a societal level whether or not these individual cases result in the arrest and conviction of these criminals, but there's a substantial difference in personal cost for the innocent individuals who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

From the article it sounded like it wasn't just "who is this person we would like to question them", it was more along the lines of "we need access to this person's email and other data".

The former seems possibly okay to me, but the latter is definitely not.

What if there was a street camera or a Ring camera that caught him biking there? or hell, just the good old, a neighbor saw you biking there and named you, making you a suspect?

Calling that "wanting privacy on your daily bikeride" is a little silly, and I don't think the 2000$ is really giving you said privacy. Similarly, police overreach is a real issue, but the 2000$ is hardly going to solve that, and as mentioned above, you could've gotten entangled dozens of other way.

He chose between

- hiring this lawyer to fight the warrant, or

- the risk of being arrested and dealing with criminal charges

That's no choice at all.

Not is it a choice if a neighbour pointed him out. Or any other of the countless ways in which a completely innocent person can become a completely legitimate person of interest in a police investigation.

Sure, I guess you do have a choice to not try to fight potential criminal charges. You are free to choose to just go to jail.

Google has a shit-ton of dark patterns making it hard to turn it off completely. Maps will refuse to center on your location even though the phone has a GPS lock and the blue pip is right where it is supposed to be.

You can restrict data to three months which would have been helpful here.

Just tried turning off all these settings and maps still centers for me just fine. Can you post a video of this happening? Are you sure you haven't denied your location to Google Maps on your phone entirely?

It comes and goes intermittently.

Not true...

[citation needed] there is no official word from Google saying that disabling location history disables sensorvault.

As far as I know, sensorvault is originally sourced from "improve location accuracy" events sent by the phone (hence the original name: sensorvault and not userlocation-vault), and kept "anonymized" until request for de-anonymization by law enforcement.

"Explore your timeline. Rediscover the places you’ve been and the routes you’ve traveled in your timeline. Only you can see your timeline."

Based on TFA, this statement is untrue.

> And also cleared him

He's lucky an overzealous prosecutor didn't go after him anyway.

Also lucky his parents had money to pay for a lawyer:

> So he went to his parents’ home in St. Augustine, where, over dinner, he told them what was happening. They agreed to dip into their savings to pay for a lawyer.

This is WHY they didn't go after him anyway. If your goal is to turn resources into results the best roi is to punish anyone they can plausibly accuse and threaten into taking a plea.

I guess the silver lining here is that perhaps another person has finally learned about the value of privacy. And that "nothing to hide" is bullshit

Google will still track your coarse location by geolocation history of your IP. You cannot continue to use any of these services and opt out of location surveillance.

Citation? I do not believe this is true, but I'd be happy to learn of evidence to the contrary.

Better go to where you can delete your Google account entirely. It's baffling to me that people would voluntarily submit themselves to the kind of invasive surveilance Google conducts.

Make sure you also disable Web & App Activity (on that same page).

> Important: If you have other settings like Web & App Activity turned on and you pause Location History or delete location data from Location History, you may still have location data saved in your Google Account as part of your use of other Google sites, apps, and services.


It’s not certain that the guy had Location History enabled. In the article he only talks about Location Services (enhancing precision using WiFi and/or Bluetooth).

It's not just Google. It is many many apps.

Here is a posting from a month ago that didn't get any traction. It links to a Washington Post article that says that the US government is buying location data from apps. It conveniently means they don't need a warrant: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22285638

Here is a posting from 2018 that got 253 comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17938548

I love how many people in this thread think that Google's location tracking is the issue here. If you have a phone at all you are tracked. If you drive many newer cars you are tracked. If you go out in public where there are cameras you are tracked. The difference is that the individual will never be able to get access to the cell tower tracking information, cctv footage, etc. The problem if there is one, is that it is too easy for law enforcement to get access to Google's information and use it in ways that are probably a violation of the constitution. While turning your tracking off may seem like a good idea, and for some threat models it certainly is, for many users this actively disempowers them relative to corporations and states. Someone already has your data, you might want to get a copy of it too.

> They also scoop up data from people who have nothing to do with the crime, often without their knowing ─ which Google itself has described as “a significant incursion on privacy.”

This is masterful re-framing of Google's deplorable attitude towards user privacy. Apparently the real incursion on privacy is not when Google collects and tracks this information, but when government officials subpoena the information from Google. Amazing.

I like how an innocent person needs to have a criminal mindset to avoid going to jail for a made up charge. I mean this attitude "never talk to the police" seems backwards until you realise why. Someone made a good analogy that police is the HR department of the state and you know that if an HR wants to talk to you, it's rarely for your benefit.

There's a simple solution to ubiquitous surveillance: conform.

Don't do anything out of the ordinary. Do exactly what everyone does, and you won't get hurt. If you enjoy exploring and experimenting, discovering and inventing, creating and wondering, you'll need to train yourself out of that, because thoughts lead to actions.

Think Same.

The whole point is that it's the conforming behaviour (leaving the location tracker on) rather than the non conforming one (turning it off) that led to him being a person of interest. A completely legitimate one, I might add.

Do you need to take phone calls and answer messages while riding your bike?

When it became obvious to me that the scenario described in the article was going to be increasingly common, I started to carry my phone in airplane mode, in an electromagnetically shielded pouch (most of which only work marginally), when in transit from place to place. I only turn GPS on when I need it. This also has a nice side-effect of prolonging battery life.

As far as bike fitness tracking, I have and highly recommend the Sigma BC 14.16 bike computer - it runs for over a year on a single coin cell battery, comes with a barometric altimeter, and even does altitude plotting. And it does not and cannot report you to the police!


I get it that this is a simple thing one can do today to help increase their privacy a little, but this is wholly the wrong attitude. One can still easily be caught up in a geofence dragnet without riding bikes, regardless of how often they turn on airplane mode.

If law makers/enforcement continue down this dystopian path, having your phone off or not with you at all may become enough to make you a suspect.

> I started to carry my phone in airplane mode, in an electromagnetically shielded pouch (most of which only work marginally), when in transit from place to place.

That looks extremely suspicious. If they don't have a match, looking for "who turned their phone off somewhere in the vicinity and turned it back on 30 minutes later somewhere else" makes sense.

If you don't want to get tracked, leave your phone at home, and carry a switched-off burner for emergencies.

Couldn't he just show the police his exact bike route for that day? It would show him passing the house only momentarily. That's probably more than enough for them to eliminate his as a suspect, especially considering they have access to Google's metadata for cross-reference.

Trying to "explain" things to the police is a very bad idea:


Talking to cops is like being questioned by your parents as a kid. They assume the worst and don't care if they're wrong.

There's also this classic talk, about why talking to the police is a terrible idea:


You are presumed innocent. In civics class you learn that the prosecution has to prove your guilt (that's bullshit, of course, because you'll be offered a plea deal and have the choice between a copping a plea and finding yourself before a crooked jury that would convict a ham sandwich), but even so, why would you talk to the police and offer them ammunition that can be twisted into a story against you?

> You are presumed innocent.

This is once your case makes it to court. Police/Prosecutors are looking to find/prosecute the culprit, and will assume guilt where they think it makes sense - the court then confirms/denies if this assumed guilt was correct in a trial.

> It would show him passing the house only momentarily.

Passing the house momentarily (three times within an hour, according to the article) could mean he was checking out the house as a potential target. That's probably more than enough to mark him as a suspect. Were he the culprit, he could have then turned off the phone, or hid it within some distant bushes making it look like he stopped to rest, while actually doing the burglary.

That's not the point. What if he stopped to have a drink of water like 10 minutes from there?

Innocent people who happened to be in the vicinity should not have to explain their every moment on some day months in the past because the police don't want to spend time doing more detailed investigations and interviewing potential eyewitnesses.

American justice system is broken; if you’re arrested you get put in jail until your court date unless you can pay the bail. If you can’t pay the bail then you can be in jail for months or years for something you didn’t do. The prosecutor will tell you to take plea deal for a shorter sentence or risk losing fighting in court and get a more severe punishment. A lot of innocent people end up taking plea deals because the odds are against them. Court cases can drag on for years and cost a fortune in lawyer fees. The biggest lie is that you’re 'innocent until proven guilty'. If you get accused of a felony and end being proven innocent, there’s still no way to get that off your permanent record and will show up in background checks and follow you for life.

California eliminated cash bail in 2018. In California, a risk assessment is done to determine whether a suspect can be safely released.

This might run afoul of the Carpenter decision, right? It basically held that asking for cell tower location data is a search of the person rather than a subpoena of records.

EDIT: maybe not. This one had a warrant rather than a subpoena. I'd still be interested in the interaction though.

Doubtful, Carpenter was based on the fact that the cell tower location was not a willing transfer of international, but merely a functioning of the cellular technology and so the information was still protected under the 4th amendment requirement for a warrant. In this case, suspect ‘willingly’ transferred that information to Google and there was a warrant request for the information. Although, I suspect that the warrant was more to make it easier to get Google’s compliance than to deal with 4th amendment concerns.

Exactly, the warrant is exactly the mechanism used by our legal system to document the suspension of rights otherwise granted by the fourth amendment.

And it's why I think a lot of the ire here is misdirected. I mean, sure, the police were wrong for asking for this data, but it's easy to see why they wanted it -- it makes their job easier in an obvious way. The real problem here is the judge that granted the warrant.

The police wanted all the data, so my guess is "including search and browsing data"

oh oh... time to switch to Firefox.

To be noted: real bad actors will start shutting their phones off before their actions.

> To be noted: real bad actors will start shutting their phones off before their actions.

Which would be a signal as well. They'd rather just leave their phones at home.

Reminds me of the college kids that painted swastikas on the cement and were caught cause their phones were connected in the area.

Fake GPS can mock your location and simulate natural movements.


Are there any recommendations how one can limit the amount of information Google is collecting on them, preferably without completely giving up on Android and Google services (such as maps)? I'm already considered a hermit by friends for not having a Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn account, but to me it constantly feels like I haven't gone far enough. This shit is downright dystopian, and I'm outraged by the general lack of outrage.

So long as Google Play Services is installed, there's only so much you can do to limit it. It's essentially equivalent to giving Google root access to your phone.

The best thing you can do is cut off Google completely. Install AOSP, LineageOS or a similar ROM and don't install Play Services. Get apps from FDroid or where necessary something like Aurora Store (an open-source Play Store implementation). Don't use apps that depend on Google. There are alternative apps for maps that are pretty great, mostly OSM based (e.g. OSMAnd and the Maps.me-based "Maps" app in FDroid).

However that's not always something you can do. Some apps just won't work without some kind of connection to Google. For those, there's MicroG, an open-source implementation of Play Services that gives you a whole lot more control and even allows you to use different location backends like those provided by Mozilla or Apple.

If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism" by Shoshana Zuboff. It's not exactly a 'how to' manual for privacy, but it is helpful for understanding the scale of the problem.

Tangential question about the work "burglarized":

Is there a term for a word that's the result of inefficient application of modifiers?

I would guess that "burglarized" is formed by this evolutionary chain:

A1) burgle

A2) buglar : someone who burgles

A3) burglarized : an object which has been acted upon by a burglar

But I would think a more canonical chain is:

B1) burgle

B2) burgled : an object of burgling

A3 and B2 seem to mean the same thing, so I would think B2 is preferable because both the word itself, and the chain of applied modifications, are shorter.

If anything it reminds me of the criticism of F.R Leavis who often railed against a tendency of making English more Germanic and thus less elegant, often in pursuit of filling one's writings with a professional jargon that would sound more intelligent and devoid of energy.

This is a guess, but I think “burglarize” is a back formation coming from “burglarization”, the state of having been burgled or an instance of same. “Burglarization” is, naively but grammatically, caused by someone or something that “burglarizes”.

It’s similar to “orientate“ instead of “orient”. An object or person has an “orientation” produced by someone or something that “orientates”. This in contrast to someone or something that “orients”.

It’s ugly English, for sure, but I believe it’s perfectly cromulent in grammatical terms.

Interesting that A3 is American English and B2 is British English.

Everything about the case is nuts but, to me, one of the worst thing is this line "They agreed to dip into their savings to pay for a lawyer.".

No money, no justice.

I think it's interesting that these articles are always from the PoV of living in a surveillance state.

What about legitimate uses of geofence warrants? Does that not exist?

What if your mobile device gets stolen? Why should you not have the right to get its location easily? Happened to me in Northern California, and both AT&T and the police were useless. Part of the reason why I'm not very interested in returning to Cali.

You have a right... so long as you don’t encroach on others’ rights.

Well, it's my phone and service, I paid for it, and I want to give the police the address of the perpetrators for them to check out.

But, no, I'm not allowed to do that, because privacy; and, no, the police in California won't do that, either, because courts are overcrowded, and they don't feel like asking the judge for a warrant that AT&T requires.

I don't think the criminals who steal my device are supposed to have any privacy rights. Just sayin'.

Actually the real reason is probably that the GPS data isnMt that accurate nor real time enough that they can just go to the spot and it pinpoints the person, so they aren’t going to go on a wild goose chase to recover your private property while other more serious crimes are being committed.

It makes you wonder how many of these stories exist and are unheard of. I'm OK with Google sharing some aggregated metrics and statistic to help fight criminals, but tracking individuals is a nightmare becoming real.

It is not directly Google's fault, they are required by laws to provide the data. Laws are democratically voted, yet are people okay with police able to open their private lives with just a button?

> It is not directly Google's fault, they are required by laws to provide the data.

It's Google's fault for collecting the data in the first place.

They could have collected it anonymously rather than tie it to a user but they chose not to do so.

Another day, another new outrage.

“I would think the majority of citizens in the world would love the fact that we are putting violent offenders in jail,” Armbruster said.

Remind me to bust that one out the next time anyone disagrees with me. "I would think the majority of citizens in the world would want us to watch another UFC fight, honey, instead of Stranger Things."

This is a perfect example of a concrete problem arising from lack of privacy in electronic devices. It's not some abstract fear of being manipulated, but instead a simple and direct invasion of privacy that leads to dire consequences.

I didn't know police had such free access to Google data btw. This is super concerning to me.

Don't talk to the police. Don't carry a tracking device.

I suspect both of these things are nearly impossible in the US. At some point you will have to talk to police, if only to identify yourself. At some point you will be tracked, if only by your license plate, or soon your face.

I do believe a license plate counts as a tracking device, which GP suggested not taking with you.

Here's a US-based criminal defense attorney saying that not only is that good advice, it's also practicable (in the US):


Do not talk to the police. Under any circumstances at all. (But especially if you're innocent!)

Am I missing something? If you take your license plate off your car, you will be pulled over by a cop. It's not practical for most people in the U.S. to give up driving.

The thing you're missing: I wasn't suggesting that you remove the license plate from your car. I was suggesting that a car, with a license plate attached, is a tracking device which you should avoid.

Most cars these days also have GSM modems in them, letting the manufacturer, the cell tower, and by extension the entire military intelligence community and federal investigators know exactly where they are at all times (they receive all GSM HLR data in realtime from the carriers). It really is that bad. We know for a fact that domestic federal law enforcement is using parallel construction to conceal the fact that they are receiving tips from the military's mass surveillance systems:


Furthermore, millions of Americans that don't own or drive cars stand in direct evidence contrary to your claim that giving up driving is impractical. Driving is actively harmful to our society, our safety, our cities, and our future well-being. Everyone should be avoiding it as much as possible, including but not limited to moving to places where it's not necessary, or only very rarely necessary.

I stand by my assertion that it’s extremely impractical for most people to reconfigure their lives in this way.

Yes, I agree it counts as a tracking device. My point was that it’s probably extremely impractical for most people in the US to forgo a license plate.

You have to identify yourself to police, though. After that you should find out if you're free to leave / request a lawyer.

Not always, and often with limitations on circumstance. It depends on the jurisdiction. Look up Stop & Identify laws for wherever you are. Wikipedia has an overview https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_and_identify_statutes

I don't have any warrants, so I'd rather just ID myself if asked than memorize a bunch of odd jurisdictions, figure out which one applies here, and whether the cop could find a way to just arrest me anyway for refusing to answer, whether or not it was against the law.

You can make a fake license plate. You can make a fake face. In both cases, it only needs to 1. not look out of place at a glance, and 2. hold up for just long enough to do the crime.

For the license plate, 3D printing + a 30-second paint job would work just fine. Make it an out-of-state plate. Don’t make up a number; read a plate off of one of those public surveillance-cam live feeds of highway traffic from a different state.

If you’re going to do something really bad, it’d be better to steal a car and put the fake license plate on it; commit your crime; drive this stolen car to, and leave it in, the airport long-term parking lot, and then strip off your disguise in the airport bathroom and take a cab home. (That way, they’ll think “the suspect” fled the city/country.) You could also bring a hand-vacuum with you, use it to detail the car, and then pour bleach all over the car’s interior once it’s clean, to erase both your epithelials, any other epithelials, and to contaminate any blood evidence. Bring the vacuum home with you; empty the filter into a garbage can at least a few streets away; then wash and bleach inside it, too. (It’d be better if you could get a bagged hand-vacuum, but I don’t know of any.)

For the face, skip the silly Halloween masks and go with Hollywood-makeup-dept facial prosthetics, e.g. put on a beard; put on a skin cap to make yourself partially balding, or on top of it, add a short real-hair wig, such that your regular longer hair would have been impossible to grow out in the intervening time; wear fashion glasses if you don’t need glasses, or wear contacts if you always wear glasses; and any other things you can think to do that will change your BOLO description in ways that they don’t expect to be easily changeable (e.g. increase your height by a few inches with subtle platform flats!) Then, use some silicone pads + foundation to add some volume to your cheekbones/forehead/whatever, such that facial metrics computed from imagery of your crime won’t return a match to photos of your normal face. Buy all of these things in different cities than the one you live in, paying cash, using a lesser disguise, at least six months before you intend to commit the crime. (In fact, buy them as an “in case of emergency, new identity” kit for yourself long before you ever decide to commit a specific crime.)

Oh, and of course, whatever you do, wear gloves and shoes. Specifically, new gloves and new shoes of a different make and size to your regular ones, both purchased at least six months in advance. Afterward, burn/melt down your whole disguise kit (gloves+shoes+prosthetics) and throw the remains of it away away in a different city. If you plan to use a gun, use tough gloves, such that slide-bite won’t pull your DNA. (Of course, discard the gun. Disassemble and melt the components first in a DIY sand-box crucible using a blowtorch; then throw the slag in a body of water. The most important thing to melt is the inside of the barrel, to destroy rifling characteristics.)

And never touch any part of your skin to anything during the crime. For example, don’t bite anybody. What are you, crazy?

Finally, maybe consider committing the crime in a different city/state/country than the one you live in, if you can: commute in, do it, commute out. That’s rarely an option for most crimes, given that your “target” is probably someone or something you know, that lives in your city. But, if you’re sufficiently dedicated to doing this, you could move out of your city months in advance as part of the plan, just to return on that one day, commuting in under disguise while you have an alibi back at home. (I’d suggest a remote-work job, and a script to realistically automate the doing of a day’s worth of that remote work, including driving a headless-browser for goofing-off time.)


Source: mostly a lot of studying forensic case-files and asking myself what I’d do differently. It’s a fun way to pass the time when you have to read this stuff anyway for work.

I don’t really feel unethical giving any of this “advice”, because real criminals will never follow it, as criminality is strongly linked to a lack of impulse control. Nobody ever really plans [non-white-collar] crimes months in advance; or if they do, they don’t seek out resources to help them plan, thinking their own naive plan is bulletproof. (Or, on the other side of the spectrum, they feel in need of “authoritative” advice, so they buy books about the crimes they’re going to commit and keep them in their house; rather than, say, finding a text on LibGen through Tor and keeping it on an encrypted USB-key that they look at only through TAILS.) People with high-enough IQs, detail-oriented-ness, and problem-solving abilities to get away with crime, have better things to do with their lives than committing crime†.

(Consider, by analogy: nobody would ever catch you running a meth lab, if you actually followed proper chemistry safety and disposal procedures, something any YouTube chemistry-video creator can manage in their own home just fine. But what criminal chemist does this, even with a strong monetary incentive to do so?)

† Or they become mob bosses.

The sophisticated types who can carry out such plans tend to do their machinations in the corporate or business world, where it's much more profitable and even legal on paper.

You don't own your license plate.

A good reminder that even if you have nothing to hide, privacy is still very important. The more data you make available the greater chance of a false positive. Those who protect their privacy will in the long run come out ahead. It is one of the few situations with no real tradeoffs.

So if he were using an old cellphone, before the days of apps, would he still have been served a notice from the phone company for his phone tower location?

The article says: "drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular connection"

and cellular connection.

_That_ is the question we should be asking. If not, is it because geofence warrants have a higher legal bar if issued to a phone company? Or is it about the level-of-effort?

Cellular location data is not nearly as precise as GPS. A cell tower could serve an area of many square miles (the fewer users there are in the area, the larger an area the tower can accommodate), so just knowing which cell tower you're talking to can't place you at a particular address.

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