Douglas Andrews / December 5, 2022

How Big Tech and Big Brother Swept Up the J6 Protesters

The government collaborated with Google to weaponize the cellphones of hundreds of January 6 protesters and rioters.

Perhaps the most underreported story of the Trump administration is the one in which his Department of Justice collaborated with Google to use cellphone location data to identify and arrest BLM and antifa thugs for their respective roles in a series of deadly and destructive riots during the summer of 2020.

It’s underreported because it never happened.

On the other hand, though, Google did assist the Department of Justice by using its geolocation data to place suspects in and around the U.S. Capitol building during the riot of January 6, 2021. As The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland writes:

Google gave the feds the personal data of nearly 1,500 individuals based on cell phone location data indicating their presence near the Capitol complex on Jan. 6, 2021. The Department of Justice sought substantially more information, as well, according to a recent court filing, including data on Jan. 6 cell phone users wholly outside the Capitol. These facts, coupled with Google’s apparent disregard for the privacy rights of its customers, expose the potential for the government and Big Tech to collaboratively target political enemies.

Recent events have now proven beyond any doubt what we long ago began reporting: Big Tech is biased, corrupt, and downright evil, and it’s the enemy of conservatives, libertarians, Republicans, and honest liberals everywhere.

In this particular case, a court filing by David Rhine, one of the January 6 suspects, shows that Google initially identified 5,723 devices as being in or near the Capitol building during the riot. Of that group, around 900 people have so far been charged with crimes. This includes Rhine, who has been charged with four federal crimes: entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.

How did the DOJ and Google do it? How did they use the cellphones of American citizens to incriminate them? By using a technique called geofencing. As Wired magazine reported last September: “Geofence warrants are intended to locate anyone in a given area using digital services. Google has been the target for many geofence warrants because its location technologies, which leverage GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth signals to pinpoint a phone within a few yards, are powerful and widely used.” (As an aside, it’s interesting that the DOJ relies on this “powerful and widely used” technology for prosecuting J6 defendants, but doesn’t seem to have any interest in using it when the topic is the Democrats’ bulk-mail ballot harvesting during the 2020 election. Or does it really think that Basement Joe Biden got more population-adjusted votes than Barack Obama did?)

According to Rhine’s filing, Wired reported last week: “Dozens of phones that were in airplane mode during the riot, or otherwise out of cell service, were caught up in the trawl. Nor could users erase their digital trails later. In fact, 37 people who attempted to delete their location data following the attacks were singled out by the FBI for greater scrutiny.”

Clearly, if you’re a Trump supporter, your cellphone data isn’t nearly as secure as you thought it was — especially where Google is concerned.

Do these geofence warrants represent an unlawful search and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment? That issue, as Cleveland notes, “remains hotly debated, and to date, only a few lower courts have addressed the issue.” These courts have concluded that the Fourth Amendment does indeed apply to geofencing requests and that the DOJ must establish probable cause and narrow its search scope in order to obtain the data.

Is a four-acre area sufficiently narrow in scope? We ask because that’s the area within which more than 1,500 people were swept up into the J6 net due to their cellphone data. And we ask because by Google’s own estimation, these 1,500 people “were only 68 percent likely to have been present in the four-acre area consisting of the Capitol and its surrounding area.” And, of course, not all the areas within that four-acre geofence around the Capitol were off limits.

What’s most troubling about all this is, of course, the government’s selective weaponization of Big Tech: If you’re a lawless leftist, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But if you’re a Trump supporter, you should be afraid. You should be very afraid.

Think about it: “The federal government sought geofence warrants for Jan. 6,” Cleveland writes, “but did they do so when St. John’s burned or to identify Antifa criminals? What about to identify the individual who planted pipe bombs at the RNC and DNC or to locate the vandals who targeted crisis pregnancy centers? Or might the Biden administration seek a geofence warrant to create a list of parents protesting school board meetings, using creative lawyering to devise a pretextual criminal investigation to justify the warrant?”

These questions answer themselves. And they make clear that we live under a two-tiered system of justice: one for the Left, and one for the Right.

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