Can a Google Search Get You Arrested?

Can a Google Search Term Be Illegal?

Can a Google Search Get You Arrested?

Can Googling Get You Arrested?

Updated May 11, 2023

With the Google search engine at our fingertips through phones and computers, access to new information is seemingly endless. While this can be a great benefit for curious individuals, a place with such an abundance of information is bound to have a dark side.

Unfortunately, with the rise of technology, criminals found a way to engage in a new form of illegal behavior: cybercrime. 

Cybercrime Defined

Cybercrime is committing illegal behaviors through the internet or with the help of the internet. Just a few of the many cybercrimes include:

  • Indecent content involving minors
  • Cyberbullying
  • Trading illicit substances or products
  • Identity theft
  • Fraud

Can a Google Search Term Be Illegal?

As a whole, searching content is inherently a legal activity, no matter how illegal or dark the search terms might be. How else would journalists or researchers be able to effectively do their jobs in reporting on internet crimes and offenses?

The key difference between legal and illegal activity is taking steps to commit cybercrime, not just Googling or reading about it.

Be Mindful of Your Search History 

Though searching is mostly legal, if you are continually searching words or how-tos that imply criminal or terrorist intent, you may find yourself on the radar of a government watchlist. Being on a government watchlist has consequences, including being restricted or banned from travel or being criminally investigated. 

There have been cases where individuals were arrested, searched, or charged with criminal intent based on Googling. Thus, it is crucial to be mindful of what is illegal to search and what can raise red flags. Some of the searches that have landed individuals in potential trouble with the law include: 

Downloading Content

Even if it’s not intentional, there is a more significant potential to download or end up distributing illegal content when searching about cybercrimes. There is a risk of unwanted content popping up on your computer with any Google search, so it is usually only prosecuted as a crime if it is evident that you are actively seeking out such content.

Terrorism-Related Google Searches 

Anything that insinuates the creation of homemade bombs or explosives is a cause of concern for counterterrorism. In one circumstance, a woman and her husband were investigated after a police tip for a string of searches related to pressure cookers and backpacks that looked suspicious when searched in conjunction. 

Crime How-Tos 

The fascination of crime is not illegal, but there have been cases in which individuals are searching overtly specific crime how-tos, such as murder or kidnapping, that has resulted in a criminal investigation. If you’re a self-professed crime junkie, keeping your searching broad is a good rule of thumb.  

Don’t Sweat Every Search

With over 3.5 billion Google searches occurring daily, if you’re engaging in mostly harmless searches with good intentions, you probably have nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, what happens on the internet doesn’t always stay on the internet, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. 



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