Anyone urging you to hang out on social media, any of it or all of it, is an idiot or an enemy- or both. This is coming from a far-Left source as well. You were warned. -NCS

Everyone thought it was cool to take selfies doing crimes until the FBI got all their data from Google and said hello.

Data-hungry tech companies are making the FBI’s job easier

Reading through the cases of the people who have been charged paints a picture of just how extensively various companies track us, and how much more of our data a company like Google has than the actual government apparently does. The January 6 investigation is not an isolated example of this, although it makes for a pretty good one, given its scale, notoriety, and just how much digital evidence was left by so many people.

“Social media has become a place where investigators, more and more often, are getting formally trained to look for evidence … on a regular basis,” said Adam Wandt, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and cybercrime investigations expert.

While those accused of taking part in the riot posted plenty of evidence on various platforms, tracking that goes on underneath the surface can also be used against them in the coming months and years. Though controversial, law enforcement has used some of these methods of tracking and data collection in the Capitol insurrection investigation.

For example, the FBI admits to using commercial facial recognition technology systems, including Vigilant Solutions and Clearview AI, which scrape the internet for photos, rather than relying on license photos and mugshots. Stephen Chase Randolph was identified by using an “open source facial recognition tool” that matched a photo of him on his girlfriend’s Instagram page. Randolph is accused of assaulting a police officer and rendering her unconscious. He has pleaded not guilty.

Geofence warrants are another tool that has drawn concern among privacy and civil rights groups. Also known as reverse search warrants, these orders require companies to provide all the accounts that were in a certain area at a certain time, in the hope that a suspect can be identified within that group. That means the devices of perfectly innocent people might be caught in, essentially, a digital dragnet. Law enforcement agencies are using them more and more with little oversight. Documents in multiple January 6 cases say the FBI has and is using geofence data of all devices on the Capitol grounds during the insurrection. Anyone inside the Capitol building who had an Android phone turned on or used a Google application during the riot was likely caught in the geofence warrant.

This seems to be how the agency found Amy Schubert. After receiving a tip that a woman wearing a jacket with a Joliet, Illinois, union’s logo on it could be seen in a YouTube video of the insurrection, the FBI searched its geofence database for Google accounts that had a Joliet area code. There were six. Two of those belonged to women, and a quick search revealed Schubert’s Facebook page, which featured a photo of a woman who looked just like the woman in the video. Investigators got a search warrant for Schubert’s Google account and found that her phone was inside the Capitol building on January 6 and that it took several photos and videos while there. Some of them showed her husband, John. He was also arrested. Both Schuberts pleaded guilty to demonstrating in a Capitol building in December.

That’s not to say that the Schuberts and other Capitol rioters wouldn’t have been caught if not for Google; the FBI may have other tools at its disposal it could have used to identify and catch them. But Google certainly seems to be the simplest, and bound by the fewest legal restrictions when it comes to collecting and keeping so much data on so many people — unlike the government, which has to get warrants and show cause to monitor American citizens this way. That means a bunch of private businesses are almost certainly tracking you right now. Unless it has a good reason to do so, the government probably isn’t.

While tech companies have helped the FBI find the people who didn’t make much or enough of an effort to hide their actions, one of the most potentially dangerous suspects remains at large: The person who placed pipe bombs outside the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters the night before the insurrection has yet to be identified. The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, and has released surveillance videos and photos of the suspect with their face obscured, a map of their likely route, and detailed information about the shoes they were wearing.

The FBI also says it’s interviewed hundreds of people, collected tens of thousands of video files, and followed up on more than 300 tips trying to find the pipe bomber, yet they remain unknown and on the loose as far as we know. The Sedition Hunters have even dedicated a section of their site to them. But without a preponderance of social media evidence and mobile device data, it seems to be a lot harder for the FBI to identify people who make efforts to stay hidden.

Others have been less careful. In the weeks after the Capitol riot, Walter Messer, the Ohio man, did some internet sleuthing of his own, according to the web search history the FBI obtained from Google. He looked up news articles about Capitol arrests, FBI billboards, and Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died shortly after the riot. Messer also wanted to know what the penalties were for violating federal trespassing laws. A few months later, when he was charged with breaking federal trespassing laws, these searches were used as probable cause to arrest him.