As Brian Walshe’s grisly Google searches are revealed: How you can never REALLY delete your internet history as ‘keyword warrants’ can force the tech giant to identify users looking up incriminating search terms
- Walshe’s searches about decomposition now form the basis of a murder trial
- Google searches are stored by the tech giant even if users delete their history
- Police can request warrants to reveal Google data in criminal investigations
- Keyword warrants even allow the police to track down unknown suspects
Brian Walshe’s grisly Google search history following the disappearance of his wife Ana now forms the basis of a murder trial – despite her body not being found.
The cache of data, including searches for ‘how long before you can inherit’, were stored by the Silicon Valley giant – as they are with all users, even if they believe they have wiped their personal devices of any trace.
Walshe, 47, who is accused of murdering Ana in the basement of their home in Cohasset, Massachusetts, used his son’s iPad to search for: ’10 ways to dismember a body’ and ‘does baking soda make a body smell good?’
Not only does Google retain this information – but law enforcement can compel tech companies to turn over the data with warrants.
This even goes a step further with controversial ‘keyword searches’ where the authorities can request Google find users who have made incriminating searches.
Brian Walshe pleaded not guilty to beating his wife Ana to death this morning as prosecutors laid out a mountain of evidence against him including Google searches about divorce, murder, dismemberment and decomposing bodies
Google has come under pressure from internet privacy campaigners and in 2020 the tech giant’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced an auto-delete feature to purge the stored search and location data after 18 months.
Previously the information was stored by the firm indefinitely.
The feature was applied as the default setting across all new Google accounts – however, it had to be activated by existing users.
Despite these protections, law enforcement can compel tech giants like Google to release searches – and they can even go a step further with ‘keyword warrants’ – which alert the authorities if specific search terms are being used.
The practice was revealed in the arson case of Michael Williams – an associate of the convicted sex offender R. Kelly – who torched the car of an accuser in Florida in July 2020.
Investigators sent a keyword warrant to Google that requested data on ‘users who had searched the address of the residence close in time to the arson.’
Google boss Sundar Pichai announced in 2020 an auto-delete feature to purge the stored search and location data after 18 months. The feature was applied as the default setting across all new Google accounts – however, it had to be activated by existing users.
Google provided IP addresses – a unique identifier used by internet service providers – of people who searched for the victims’ home address.
The data was tied to a phone used by Williams, allowing police to pinpoint his device to a location near the site of the arson during the crime.
Further raids of his Google searches showed Williams had looked up ignition of fertilizer and diesel fuel, witness intimidation and witness tampering, and countries that do not have extradition agreements with the US.
Williams was hit with an eight-year prison sentence in November 2021 for the attack on an SUV outside the home of one of the singer’s accusers.
In a similar case, when police in Colorado failed to turn up any leads after five people were killed in an arson in 2020, they served Google with a warrant for anyone who searched the address of the fire.
The tech giant complied, helping the authorities track down three teenagers who had searched the address. They were later charged with murder.