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Pushback: California county sued for using cellphones to track movements of church-goers

Santa Clara seal

They’re coming for you next: Santa Clara county in California is now being sued by Calvary Chapel San Jose and its pastor Mike McClure for using without warrant the GPS data from the cellphones of the church’s members to track their movements without their knowledge.

On August 22, 2023, a lawsuit was filed by Advocates for Faith and Freedom on behalf of Calvary Chapel San Jose against Santa Clara County, California, for utilizing geofencing methods to spy on church members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, Santa Clara County imposed a $1.2 million fine against the church for not abiding by the State’s and County’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Santa Clara County utilized an investigative method known as geofencing. Geofencing is a technological tool the government uses to track people relative to their location and likely locations. This tool is typically used in police investigations of criminal activity and, in these instances, requires a warrant– which is not always granted.

The lawsuit complaint can be read here [pdf]. As it notes:

Unbeknownst to the public, Defendants embarked on an invasive and warrantless geofencing operation to track residents in the County. The Defendants used this tool under the auspices of researching so-called superspreader events and activities.

Geofencing is a location-based tool used by the government to track individuals through their cell phone data. This tool is generally used in police investigations of criminal activity and requires the government to obtain a warrant, which is limited in time and scope.

The Defendants specifically targeted Calvary Chapel San Jose (“CCSJ”) to demonstrate the church was a large superspreader. The County hoped to use this information in its ongoing state enforcement action against the church. To this day, the County cannot trace one COVID-19 case to the church.

The Defendants put multiple geofences around the church’s property so they could track when and where individuals were on the premises. This operation took place over a year with seemingly no oversight, boundaries, or limitations – meaning the Defendants could track churchgoers in the sanctuary, prayer room, or bathroom.

This type of expansive geofencing operation is not only an invasion of privacy but represents a terrifying precedent if allowed to go unaddressed. As it stands, the Defendants are effectively arguing that, as long as they call it research, any level of government can target and spy on any individual or group at any time for any duration, and, if they so choose, they can wield the collected data against said individuals or groups who oppose their orders. This is not just un-American; it is downright Orwellian. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentence is the bottom line. Despite imposing a $1.2 million fine against the church for continuing its regular meetings during the COVID lockdowns, the county has yet to document any evidence that the church’s defiance caused COVID to spread at all. If anything, the county’s illegal data-gathering proved it did not, unequivocally.

Santa Clara County's users manual
Santa Clara County’s users manual

Of course, any rational person could have told the county this. The lockdowns did nothing to stop COVID, so there was no reason for the church to stop its Sunday services. In fact, the county’s attempt to forbid religious services (while allowing many other group activities to go on), its totalitarian fining of the church, and its illegal surveillance all strongly suggest that county officials had no interest in stopping COVID, but were actually implementing an anti-religious campaign to suppress religious expression.

The county can deny this accusation, but the evidence tells us it is true. Santa Clara County officials decided to use COVID as an excuse to squelch the religious freeom and first amendment rights of this church and its members. In doing so, it is also attempting to establish a precedent that will allow the government to spy on any citizen for as long as it wants, without warrant and for any reason, and then use that data to condemn that citizen.

Note too that the surveillance was without cause, and could not have gotten a warrant even if the county had tried. The church members were not committing any crimes by going to church. If anything they were simply exercising their first amendment rights, guaranteed from this kind of government interference by the Constitution itself.

The lawsuit demands nominal and compensatory damages as well as attorneys’ fees, claiming the county violated the church’s first and fourth amendment rights. I hope a jury gives the church an award that exceeds the county’s fine by many millions.

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  • Related: Its all related:


    Trust the process, enjoy the journey.

  • John

    What a bunch of tyrannical banana republic BS.

  • Jeff Wright

    We lost the 4th Amendment due to the drug war and no-knock warrants…anti-gang ordinances criminalize associations. The right has its own blind spots same as the left.

  • Concerned

    Of course, even if the church wins, the settlement comes out of us taxpayers. Oh how I wish the tyrants in charge would be held criminally, or at least civilly fiscally liable.

  • Jim Harr

    “The highlighted sentence is the bottom line.”

    The highlighted sentence is NOT the bottom line. To say this is to imply that if Covid cases could be traced back to the church, then this tracking would be ok. It would not. It would make no difference whatsoever to the unconstitutional nature of this tracking. Tragically, even if the church is successful in its suit, this is simply one more step down the road to the tyranny to which we are heading. The genie is out of the bottle, and he’s not going back in.

  • Man in the Middle

    This isn’t the only way in which Santa Clara County has been trying to punish Calvary Chapel, San Jose for staying open during COVID-19. Fortunately, the legal charity Advocates for Faith and Freedom have been defending them throughout, at no charge.
    That’s why I donate generously to that legal charity every year, and invite others to do so as well, here:

  • All Christians should ignore and resist any attempted shut downs in the future. Those who did shut down last time are guilty of genocide. 25% of congregations of churches died away. Shame!

  • Jim Harr: Point very well taken, especially since my entire conclusion has nothing to do with the Wuhan panic.

  • Gerald Wheeler: I disagree with you in only one way: Everyone, not just Christians, should ignore and resist any attempted shut downs in the future. Tell these thugs to go to hell.

  • Man in the Middle: This pro-bono legal firm is excellent, deserves support, as do all such similar legal firms that have come forward in the past few years to replace the leftist and failed ACLU. See my list here:

    Where to get legal help if you have been illegally blacklisted

  • anon

    Hey Bob, love your work.

    It’s kind of you to let “Cotour” keep posting here after all his friends and family have blocked him on Facebook

  • anon: I find something about your comment very ugly. Why even say such things, other than to seed anger and hate?

  • James Street

    Good for Pastor McClure and Calvary Chapel San Jose. Most of Christendom is either oblivious to what’s going on or have joined the other side. But there are still 7,000 who have not bowed their knee to Baal.

    Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is having a round table discussion series on his YouTube channel of the biblical book of Exodus with a half dozen theologians and religious scholars. One of the them, Dennis Prager who is Jewish, was asked if Jewish theology believes there are demonic beings. He replied:
    “I’m a strict monotheist. There’s one God, end of issue. There are no demons. I will say though to my own shock the last years in the western world have opened me up for the first time to the belief that there may be a devil. I’m not kidding, I wish I were, there’s no levity to what I’m saying but it is almost impossible to explain the rejection of what is good and the celebration of what is wrong so radically and so quickly without recourse to some other force in the universe…”
    (queued to start at 57:24 where he makes this statement)

  • James Street: Based on conversations I’ve had with my Jewish Orthodox relatives, Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament recognizes the existence of evil, and in fact makes that existence a fundamental reality that all humans must deal with. We are not required to be good. God leaves us freedom of choice, but then lays out the rules (in the Old Testament) for avoiding that evil.

    The devil is just a simple concept for defining and describing that evil. It is in us all, as is good. We must make a conscious choice (make a good book title) on which to follow.

  • anon


    I didn’t even use any naughty words.

  • anon: I have no idea if your claim is true, but if so, are you happy this person has been ostracized by friends and family? What you wrote appeared strongly like you were trying to cause pain to Cotour, for reasons that baffle me. Why? And if you didn’t mean to do that, then explain yourself.

  • anon: Moreover, you are located in Colorado, which is quite a distance from New York, where Cotour is based. I wonder how you even know about this stuff. Your IP address also shows up on two services that track spam.

    As I say, explain yourself.

  • Slaty Cleavage

    Cotour is one of the most intelligent and prolific contributors on this site. It’s puzzling why someone would say such hurtful things about Contour without nefarious intent.

  • Cotour


    I do not post on Facebook. Don’t have a Facebook account.

    My interpretation and version of the truth bothers someone.

    “It’s kind of you to let “Cotour” keep posting here after all his friends and family have blocked him on Facebook”

    Now how would the Zman understand that my “Friends and family” had me blocked on Facebook, and why in the world would that be any kind of criteria for not allowing my continued posting?

    Why not just specifically tell me what you do not agree with that I post here on BTB and why and we can see if we can come to some agreement about disagreeing.

    Or convince me about why I am incorrect or confused.

    Please, what exactly bothers you about what I have to say?

  • Cotour


    I wonder if Daves family and friends have him blocked on Facebook?

    Interesting, Dave sold his company to another company for $500 million, and they could not make it work for them.

    Dave bought it back for $1.00.

    I like Dave, he asks why someone is disparaging or lying about him, and no one can answer in a rational manner how they have arrived at their opinion.

    Four poles in the water:

  • Cotour: I suspected as much. I have not banned anon as yet, but based on this one comment, his future here is quite dim. His one saving grace is that he well illustrates Obama’s legacy of hate. Don’t debate conservatives, slander them!

    I however will not tolerate this behavior here on my webpage. Slander is far worse than insults, because it is not simply hurtful but includes lies that can damage the reputation of the victim.

  • I appreciate your position but things like this in my and your experience end pretty quickly, not much there. I encourage push back and testing.

    NONE of them in my experience have much of anything backing them up, most are poorly prepared to go much further than throwing a stone or two. Once in a while one dimensional nuggets of truth here and there but not much more than that. It is a part of the illness.

    I deal with similar all the time; civil conversations end very fast because I will ask for substance and not self-fulfilling media agenda rumor or just name calling or finger pointing.

    But not being allowed to post on BTB because someone on Facebook allegedly banned me? To my point, silly really.

    Since I am at it: Related.

    The other night at dinner a friend who’s wife has banned her husband and me from talking politics in their house. Which I respect, unless a question is asked, and I respond in one or two sentences, usually a question and end it. (His wife is an excellent cook, don’t want to piss her off :)

    He brings up NJ Senator Menendez and his being indicted (He is also from NJ). I laughed and told him the first thing that Menendez did was accuse the Democrat controlled government / DOJ of being racist because he is Hispanic! Which I thought was hilarious as did he.

    Then he throws in: “But Clearance Thomas and his wife Ginnie have to go!”.

    I asked, Why is that? And I know they are both Conservatives but so what? And I know that she let her opinions be known about Jan 6th.

    He goes on, “She was involved in renting the “coup busses”.

    I asked, What are the coup busses? I have not heard about them.

    “She rented 80 busses to transport all of the people who tried to take over the government on Jan 6th.”. (Really!? Looked like a riot to me)

    I said that I had not heard of this and that I would look into it and get back to him on it. Sounded ridiculous to me, much like anon and his or her situation.

    And this is what I found:

    He once told me that he was informed about politics because he reads the NYT’s. I told him is not in the least bit informed about politics especially because it is the NYT’s that he was reading for his information. Nor was he familiar with history and what is what concerning the Constitution and related issues.

    Anon is much like my friend, but my friend only dares throw a small pebble now and then to test the waters when he cannot control himself. It never ends as he imagines it would end though and he becomes very quiet. Great guy, hard worker, considers himself a Liberal Democrat, knows what MESSNBC and CNN tells him he knows.

    Your fathers Liberal Democrat party is long dead.

  • Cotour: Hell will freeze over before I ban anyone from BtB based on fake slanders like anon posted. Consider, I’ve spent the last three years documenting blacklisting of a similar kind, almost always for the same kinds of hateful undocumented slander. I surely am not going to join in.

  • Jeff Wright

    One of the things I worry about is this:

    Now, one argument is that an out of control city like Chicago needs to be brought to heel—but things can also go the other way.

    Home rule—support it or be run over

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