Did Watching a Drone Video Land You on a Watchlist? Feds Secretly Track YouTube Viewers

ByThe Counter Journal

In a move raising privacy concerns, newly unsealed court documents reveal federal investigators compelled Google to hand over vast amounts of user data from YouTube. The data included names, addresses, and IP addresses of users who watched specific videos linked to a suspected cryptocurrency launderer.

The investigation centered around an individual using the online alias “elonmuskwhm.” Undercover investigators sent links to publicly available YouTube videos on drone mapping and augmented reality software to the suspect during their communications. These seemingly innocuous videos, however, were part of a larger effort to identify viewers.

According to Forbes, which reviewed the documents, the data collection net was cast wide. Over 30,000 views were recorded for the targeted videos, likely encompassing thousands of innocent users. Google was ordered to turn over data from January 1st to January 8th, 2023, but it remains unclear if they complied entirely.

The legality of the data sweep has sparked debate. While federal investigators claim the information is crucial to their ongoing criminal investigation, privacy experts warn it sets a dangerous precedent. Concerns center around potential violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights, transforming search warrants into “digital dragnets” according to Albert Fox-Cahn of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

This incident adds fuel to the fire of an already heated debate on data privacy. With ongoing controversies surrounding protestor arrests and abortion access, advocates are demanding greater transparency from Google regarding its data-sharing practices. Google has made recent efforts to address privacy concerns, such as allowing users to store location data on their devices and shortening storage times. However, the company also faces ongoing legal challenges regarding the constitutionality of keyword search warrants used by law enforcement.

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