United States v. Chatrie, CRIMINAL 3:19cr130

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtM. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge
Docket NumberCRIMINAL 3:19cr130
Decision Date03 March 2022



CRIMINAL No. 3:19cr130

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 3, 2022


M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge

I. Introduction

Ratified in 1791, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees to the people the right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const, amend. IV. To that end, the Framers prohibited the issuance of a warrant, unless that warrant was based "upon probable cause" and unless it "particularly described] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Id. The Supreme Court of the United States has since applied the principles embodied in this language to constantly evolving technology-from recording devices in public telephone booths, Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); to thermal-imaging equipment, Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001); and, most recently, to cell-site location data, Carpenter v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018).

This case implicates the next phase in the courts' ongoing efforts to apply the tenets underlying the Fourth Amendment to previously unimaginable investigatory methods. In recent years, technology giant Google (and others) have begun collecting detailed swaths of location data from their users. Law enforcement has seized upon the opportunity presented by this informational stockpile, crafting "geofence" warrants that seek location data for every user


within a particular area over a particular span of time. In the coming years, further case law will refine precisely whether and to what extent geofence warrants are permissible under the Fourth Amendment. In the instant case, although the Motion to Suppress must ultimately be denied, the Court concludes that this particular geofence warrant plainly violates the rights enshrined in that Amendment.

II. Findings of Fact and Procedural History

A. Findings of Fact[1]

1. The Robbery at the Call Federal Credit Union

On May 20, 2019, at approximately 4:52 p.m., a bank robbery occurred at the Call Federal Credit Union (the "Bank") in Midlothian, Virginia. The suspect held a firearm over the course of the robbery and took $195, 000 from the Bank.

During the robbery, the suspect presented a teller working at the Bank a handwritten note that stated:

I've been watching you for sometime [sic] now. I got your family as hostage and I know where you live, [i]f you or your coworker alert the cops or anyone your family and you are going to be hurt. I got my boys on the lookout out side [sic]. The first cop car they see am going to start hurting everyone in sight, hand over all the cash, I need at least 100k and nobody will get hurt and your family will be set free. Think smartly everyone['s] safety is depending and you and your coworker[']s action so I hope they don't try nothing stupid

(ECF No. 54-1, at 6.)[2] The teller told the suspect that she did not have access to that amount of money, and the suspect then displayed a silver and black firearm. While openly holding the gun, the suspect directed the teller, other Bank employees, and the Bank customers to move to the center of the lobby and get on the floor. The suspect then led these individuals behind the teller counter to an area that contained the Bank's safe. Once behind the counter, the suspect forced the Bank's manager to open the safe and place $195, 000 into a bag he brought with him. After acquiring the money, the suspect left the Bank on foot, "towards an adjacent business, west of the [B]ank." (ECF No. 54-1, at 6.)

During its investigation, law enforcement obtained the instant Geofence Warrant (hereinafter "Geofence Warrant" or "Warrant")-a novel application of search technology whose use has grown exponentially in recent years. Google produced certain location information pursuant to the Warrant, which led the police to Okello Chatrie. Chatrie was eventually charged with two crimes related to the robbery.[3] He then filed a Motion to Suppress the Geofence Warrant that forms the basis of this Opinion.


2. The Record Presented to the Court by the Parties

There is a relative dearth of case law addressing geofence warrants.[4] In this case, the parties, especially the defense, pursued a thorough and deep record. This Court was aided by Amicus Google's provision of detailed information, including in-person testimony regarding the company's acquisition, retention, and use of users' location data. In what may be a first, Google filed an Amicus Brief.[5] Mr. Mario McGriff, a Location History Manager at Google since 2016, submitted three declarations over the course of this matter. Ms. Sarah Rodriguez, a Team Lead for Legal Investigations Specialists ("LIS")[6] at Google since 2018, provided one declaration. During a hearing on March 4-5, 2021, (one of many in this case), the Court heard live testimony from both Mr. McGriff and Ms. Rodriguez.[7]


The parties to this case also brought their own experts. Spencer Mclnvaille, an expert in digital forensic examinations, forensics, and cellular location testified for the defense, and FBI Special Agent Jeremy D'Errico, a part of the cellular analysis survey team ("CAST") spoke for the Government. Multiple rounds of briefing occurred before, during, and after the hearings held by the Court.

In order to establish as thorough a record as possible with respect to this new technology, the Court will first discuss Google's location services, as well as Google's typical response to geofence warrants.[8]

3. Google's Collection and Production of Location Data

a. Google's Suite of Location Services

Google collects detailed location data on "numerous tens of millions" of its users. (ECF No. 96-1, at ¶ 13; ECF No. 201, at 205.) It acquires and stores this data through one of at least three services: (1) Location History, (2) Web and App Activity ("WAA"), and (3) Google Location Accuracy ("GLA"). Google only searches Location History when it receives a geofence warrant.

i. Location History

Location History appears to be the most sweeping, granular, and comprehensive tool-to a significant degree-when it comes to collecting and storing location data. Google developed Location History to allow users to view their Location History data through its "Timeline" feature, a depiction of a user's collected Location History points over time. (ECF No. 96-1, at 15; see ECF No. 202, at 79.) According to Google, this permits Google account holders to


"choose to keep track of locations they have visited while in possession" of their mobile device. (ECF No. 96-1, at ¶ 4.) Importantly, Location History also supports Google's advertising revenue.[9] For instance, McGriff testified that Location History data serves Google's advertising business by providing "store visit conversions" or "ads measurement" to businesses based on user location. (ECF 201, at 196-97.) Without identifying any individual user, this "store conversion" data can follow a particular ad campaign and identify "how many users who saw a particular ad campaign actually went to one of those stores." (ECF No. 201, at 197.) Google's "radius targeting" also allows-again without identifying any user-"a business to target ads to users that are within a certain distance of that business." (ECF No. 201, at 198.)

Location History is powerful: it has the potential to draw from Global Positioning System ("GPS") information, Bluetooth beacons, cell phone location information from nearby cellular towers, Internet Protocol ("IP") address information, and the signal strength of nearby Wi-Fi networks. According to Agent D'Errico, Location History logs a device's location, on average, every two minutes.[10] Indeed, Location History even allows Google to "estimat[e]... where a device is in terms of elevation." (ECF No. 202, at 95.) McGriff testified that this capability helps locate someone in an emergency, or try to "determine if you are on the second [or first] floor of the mall" if the Google Maps directory has launched to help a user navigate indoors. (ECF No. 202, at 95-96.)


Google stores this data in a repository known as the "Sensorvault" and associates each data point with a unique user account. (ECF No. 201, at 130.) The Sensorvault contains a substantial amount of information. McGriff testified that the Sensorvault assigns each device a unique device ID-as opposed to a personally identifiable Google ID-and receives and stores all location history data in the Sensorvault to be used in ads marketing. Google then builds aggregate models within the Sensorvault with data that is transformed so that it no longer looks like user data, and then uses the data to, for instance, assist decision-making in Google Maps. As another example, Google uses this data to depict whether certain locations are busy during particular hours. Both McGriff and Rodriguez declared that, to identify users within the relevant timeframe of a geofence, Google has to compare all the data in the Sensorvault in order to identify users within the relevant timeframe of a geofence. (ECF No. 96-1, at ¶ 23 ("Google must search across all [Location History] data," and "run a computation against every set of stored LH coordinates to determine which records match the geographic parameters in the warrant."); ECF No. 96-2, at ¶ 7 ("Google must conduct the search across all [Location History] data.").) Clearly, however, Google can alter the data back to identify users in response to a geofence warrant.

Still, Location history is off by default. A user can initiate, or opt into, Location History either at the "Settings" Level, or when installing applications such as Google Assistant, Google Maps, or Google Photos. Although the specific software pathway each user sees at any given moment can differ...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT