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A Digital Dragnet Is Coming For The U.S. Capitol Insurrectionists

Ryan J. Reilly
·2-min read

The insurrectionists might have been able to leave without being arrested. Their friends and family members may not have turned them in yet. But slowly but surely, the digital surveillance net is tightening on the supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

As federal authorities continue to unveil charges against members of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago, they’re sorting through an astonishing amount of digital evidence of the attack. Between journalists’ reports and posts by the rioters themselves, the storming of the Capitol is among the most-documented mass crimes in history. Much of the evidence was provided by the defendants themselves, who posted their criminal activity on social media.

Most of the cases being unveiled by federal authorities are still originating with tips from the public, and there are hundreds of future defendants who have yet to be identified and charged. But a few of the criminal charges appear to be built on wider-spanning search warrants to social media companies that appear to have given federal authorities investigative leads they’ve used to identify lawbreakers.

The cellphones that the Capitol insurrectionists carried with them when they tried to overturn the results of the presidential election through force were feeding information to a variety of tech companies that now hold incriminating information about their users’ violations of the law.

Along with those cellphone providers, tech companies like Facebook and Google are holding a wealth of information that would make it much easier to identify the insurrectionists than would a public relations campaign aimed at publishing images of wrongdoers one by one.

“We’re all carrying tiny tracking devices with us all the time, and people aren’t necessarily conscious of the extent to which that information is obtainable from a variety of sources,” said Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at Cato and an...

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