Feds Demanded YouTube Viewer Data

The federal government tries to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights constantly. But is it also violating other constitutional rights through its invasive surveillance online?

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A recent report from Forbes lends credence to the argument that America is turning into an oppressive surveillance state under the Biden administration. In at least two different cases, the federal government previously ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to give the feds data secretly on all the users watching certain videos in a particular timeframe. The data included such details as names and addresses, user activity and telephone numbers. The feds even asked for the IP addresses of viewers without a Google account! Privacy experts were appalled.

Technology certainly makes it easier for governments to spy on citizens. We see the full-grown monster of this type of government surveillance in Communist China, where anyone who says or does or posts anything contrary to enforced government narratives can quickly have his social credit score docked, and his ability to do anything or go anywhere halted.

One set of videos potentially reaching over a hundred thousand viewers were streams of law enforcement searching an area after a bomb threat; other videos (viewed 30,000 times) were posted by a user suspected of money laundering. Forbes accessed the evidence of the government surveillance orders. The question remains: How many times has the government done this? And what does the government deem sufficient reason to request detailed user data for a “criminal investigation”?

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[Forbes] Federal investigators have ordered Google to provide information on all viewers of select YouTube videos, according to multiple court orders obtained by Forbes. Privacy experts from multiple civil rights groups told Forbes they think the orders are unconstitutional because they threaten to turn innocent YouTube viewers into criminal suspects.

In a just-unsealed case from Kentucky reviewed by Forbes, undercover cops [in 2023] sought to identify the individual behind the online moniker “elonmuskwhm,” who they suspect of buying bitcoin for cash, potentially running afoul of money laundering laws and rules around unlicensed money transmitting.

Privacy experts argued the government orders could violate both Americans’ First Amendment right to free speech and the Fourth Amendment right protecting against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Founding Fathers didn’t have YouTube, but we can make a pretty good guess they would be appalled by the federal government’s intrusive demands.

Forbes did note that it is not clear if Google gave the government the data, and a Google spokesman did not confirm one way or the other in speaking to Forbes. Regardless of that fact, however, the government appears to have been attempting to violate constitutional rights.

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Albert Fox-Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, expressed his concerns to Forbes. “This is the latest chapter in a disturbing trend where we see government agencies increasingly transforming search warrants into digital dragnets. It’s unconstitutional, it’s terrifying and it’s happening every day,” he said. “No one should fear a knock at the door from police simply because of what the YouTube algorithm serves up. I’m horrified that the courts are allowing this.”

Federal law enforcement seems incapable of tracking down violent pro-abortion vandals, criminal illegal aliens, and Antifa protestors, but it can target every whistleblower, arrest every 70-year-old grandma who was in D.C. on Jan. 6, sue every former Trump advisor, and prosecute peaceful pro-lifers. The federal government needs to be held accountable for its attempted tyranny over its citizens.

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