Government seeks personal information about who watched certain YouTube videos

According to Forbes, Google was forced to turn over to government investigators the phone numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, and user activity of certain YouTube accounts. Also turned over was the IP addresses of some YouTube users who watched certain videos. The demand for information is the result of a criminal investigation that federal investigators are handling. The videos were sent by undercover police to a suspect accused of laundering cryptocurrency.
The suspect, who has the username “elonmuskwhm,” received links to publicly available YouTube tutorials that showed viewers how to do mapping via drones, and videos that discussed AR software. While these videos were viewed over 30,000 times, most of those views were unrelated to the case. Google was asked for the list of those who viewed these videos between January 1st and January 8th, 2023 although Forbes was not sure that Google had complied with the demand.

The demand for this information has set off some alarms although Google spokesperson Matt Bryant told Forbes, “With all law enforcement demands, we have a rigorous process designed to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement. We examine each demand for legal validity, consistent with developing case law, and we routinely push back against over broad or otherwise inappropriate demands for user data, including objecting to some demands entirely.”

Those who concern themselves with privacy matters are unhappy to hear about the government requesting this information from Google. Albert Fox-Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project said to Forbes, “It’s unconstitutional, it’s terrifying, and it’s happening every day.” 

Federal investigators say that the request for information was legally justified since the data demanded, “would be relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation, including by providing identification information about the perpetrators.” The government also noted that such requests were made by police in other states. In one case in New Hampshire, investigators were digging into bomb threats streamed live over YouTube. Police requested information about those who were viewing the live streams at certain times.

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