After failing to gain access into an alleged pimp's Android smartphone, the FBI has served a warrant to Google, demanding to know a wide range of the defendant's personal information, including his name, address, Social Security number, account login and password, email, text messages and more, reports Ars Technica. A federal judge has granted the warrant request.
The story begins with Dante Dears of San Diego, who in 2005 was sentenced to state prison after starting and running a group called "Pimpin' Hoes Daily," abbreviated PHD. Dears pleaded guilty in his case, and before you feel too badly for him due to the recent scrutiny from the FBI, heed the testimony of a female who Dears recruited out of a homeless shelter when she was just 15 years old.
"He told me he was going to help take care of me and be there for me," the female witness told the court. "He told me what to do and how to do it and said we would make money that way... I was tired of living on the streets."
She earned up to $500 a night, all of which went straight to Dears. When Dears found out that she had spoken to a man who wanted to help her get off the streets instead of "working," Dears beat her up in the back seat of his Cadillac before forcing her into the car trunk.
After Dears left prison in 2009, he was quickly sent back to jail for another year and a half for violating his parole on three separate occasions. He was released again in May 2011, after which an FBI informant said he saw Dears return to his old ways. Even though Dears had to wear a GPS monitor and stay off the streets, the FBI alleges that he was able to continue "telephone pimping" with his Samsung Android phone.
The FBI recorded evidence of Dears using his cell phone, even though he had denied owning one to his parole agent. Dears then claimed the phone belonged to his sister when confronted with the evidence. Finally, Dears turned the phone over to the state parole agent, but refused to unlock the device. The FBI did not have the right to search his cell phone without a warrant, so they obtained one on February 13, 2012.
Upon receiving the warrant, the FBI took the phone from the parole agent and sent it to an FBI Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Southern California, where technicians failed to gain access to the contents of the phone. According to Ars Technica, the forensics technicians were stumped by Android's pattern lock, which locked down the phone after technicians entered incorrect patterns enough times. The FBI then sought a new warrant, which requested Dears' information from Google. That warrant application was filed on March 9, 2012, and was discovered by security researcher Chris Soghoian.
In that warrant, the FBI requested the following information from Google: the subscriber's name, address, Social Security number, account login and password, all email and personal contact list information in the cell phone, the times and duration of every webpage visited, all text messages sent and received from the phone, including photos and videos, any email addresses and instant messenger accounts that were used on the phone, search terms, Internet history, GPS data and even more. Despite the privacy concerns involved in obtaining such a huge amount of information, a U.S. Magistrate Judge granted the warrant the same day it was filed.
Google provided a statement to Ars Technica: "Like all law-abiding companies, we comply with valid legal process. Whenever we receive a request we make sure it meets both the letter and spirit of the law before complying. If we believe a request is overly broad, we will seek to narrow it."