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Home technology’s emerging role in criminal investigation

Posted by Saul Steinberg | Dec 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

Technology continues to creep into our everyday activities. While high-tech tools provide convenience to its users, they are also unlocking an easy way for police to investigate criminal activities both in and out of the home. Can the information you provide to “the internet of things” be used against you in the court of law?

Police use new sources of information

A murder investigation in Arkansas has prompted police to seek data given to an in-home Amazon Echo device to paint a larger picture of the events that night. An Amazon Echo is a voice controlled in-home assistant device similar to Siri and the iPhone. Users can ask the Echo and its virtual assistant Alexa to play music, set alarms or check the weather.

Although it is unlikely that the Echo will provide police with specific information related to the killing, the data could provide a better sequence of events that led up to the murder. As it stands, Amazon has said they will not release the user-provided data without a warrant or subpoena.

Echo heard around the world

Related to the Amazon Echo and the internet of things, the home's smart water meter indicated that an unusually large amount of water was used between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., leading authorities to believe that this was when the cleanup of the murder took place.

This case is especially interesting because it raises questions about the Fifth Amendment and its prohibition against self-incrimination and the reasonable expectation of privacy we have within our homes. The court could set a precedent for other investigations to gain access to the internet of things in people's homes if they allow investigators the legal authority to seek information from Amazon.

Business Insider predicts that 24 billion “internet of things” devices, or three per person, will be used around the world by 2020. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 10,000 households could generate 150 million data points on the internet of things every day. The sheer amount of data created by our everyday use of household items could allow government authorities to get an intrusive look at our lives.

As technology and the internet of things continue to ingrain themselves into our lives, further questions about data privacy will emerge in criminal investigations and the court system.

About the Author

Saul Steinberg

Saul J. Steinberg was born and raised in Camden, NJ. He has practiced in Camden County since first being admitted to the bar. Since 1990, he has also handled cases in Southeastern Pennsylvania.The emphasis of Saul's practice is in Criminal and Civil litigation. He has handled major criminal and c...


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