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This is a hypothetical. I watched a YouTube video of a woman who was visited by the police after her husband made searches on Google for pressure cookers. Someone responded by saying that's unlikely and it did indeed turn out that he made those searches on his work computer which his employee was monitoring with a keylogger software and then reported his suspicions to the police.

When it comes to a person making a dozen suspicious searches from their home into Google, can this place them on a watchlist or not? Assuming they are just for research

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  • "can" as in "can it happen?" or "can" as in "is it legal?"? Also, are you interested in the answer for a particular jurisdiction
    – phoog
    Nov 14, 2021 at 22:07

3 Answers 3

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Depending on the jurisdiction, Google (and other search providers) may be legally compelled to cooperate with the local law enforcement and/or intelligence agencies.

The level of access the agencies get may differ from "we will only give you that specific info if you show us search warrant from the court" to having dedicated console access where they can lookup search activity by whoever they please whenever they please, set up alarms/red flags triggered by certain keywords and so on.

When it comes to a person making a dozen suspicious searches from their home into Google, can this place them on a watchlist or not?

So, yes, it pretty much can. To what extent — depends on where and what sorts of "suspicious searches".

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Police can investigate you for any reason

Anything that arouses the suspicion of a police officer is grounds for them to commence an investigation. So long as their investigation does not rise to the level of harassment they can investigate you for days, or months, or years.

However, they would have no access to your internet searches without a warrant or other lawful access, either on your ISP or on you or your device(s). To get a warrant, they have to convince a judge that they are not just suspicious but that they have reasonable grounds to believe that you have, are or will commit a crime that justifies the warrant.

So, yes they can but, practically, they have no ability to know what your internet searches are unless they are already investigating you.

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  • Your ISP has no way to access your searches (given the major search engines use HTTPS), and getting access to your device is a fairly invasive step (and search history may not be cached, anyways, or not much of it). The police can request records from the search provider, and under some legal theories this may not require a warrant, only a subpoena (under "abandoned records" theory - this is more commonly done with emails/cellphone records, I'm not sure if it's been applied to search history) Nov 15, 2021 at 1:27
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The answer to the title question is ''yes'', although all the cases I've seen have involved the accused being a registered sex offender who is restricted from searching the internet for pornography. See:

Sample Condition Language

You must not access the Internet except for reasons approved in advance by the probation officer.

You must submit your computers (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(1)) or other electronic communications or data storage devices or media, to a search. You must warn any other people who use these computers or devices capable of accessing the Internet that the devices may be subject to searches pursuant to this condition. A probation officer may conduct a search pursuant to this condition only when reasonable suspicion exists that there is a violation of a condition of supervision and that the computer or device contains evidence of this violation. Any search will be conducted at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner.

I do not know about the scenario you describe in the body of the question, however.

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