Investigators Order YouTube to Share the Identities of Video-Watchers

FBI on laptop with youtube background
Dzelat/Shutterstock, Mehaniq/Shutterstock

According to multiple court orders obtained by Forbes on March 22, the feds have ordered Google to identify who watches specific YouTube videos.

This relates to a specific case in Kentucky, where undercover police set out to identify internet user “elonmuskwhm.” Investigators suspected the user was selling Bitcoin for cash and violating money laundering laws.

In early January 2023, undercover agents sent the user links to YouTube tutorials related to augmented reality software and mapping via drones. They then asked Google to provide the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and user activity of all Google account users who accessed the video in the first week of January 2023.

They also demanded the IP addresses of non-Google account holders who watched the video. It’s currently unclear if Google actually provided the data.

“There is reason to believe that these records would be relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation, including by providing identification information about the perpetrators,” the police say in the court documents

But as netizens decry the potential privacy implications of this, Google has defended its actions in a statement to 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,” Google spokesperson Matt Bryant said.

“We examine each demand for legal validity, consistent with developing case law, and we routinely push back against overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands for user data, including objecting to some demands entirely.”

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