Amazon Alexa. Google Home. Facebook Portal.
Smart devices can play our music, call Grandma, tell us how to saute and control our garage doors, lights, alarms, thermostats, and door locks. They’ll tell you the weather and the traffic, keep your schedules for you, look up whatever random fact you can think of, and order your dog food.
They may also be called upon to “testify” against you in the event you’re accused of a crime, as may just about any other major technological device you interact with on a regular basis.
While Amazon has pushed back against delivering that data they can be compelled to do so, and have been.
It’s easy enough to get Alexa to listen whether you know it’s listening or not. It records everything, and sends that information on to a secure, cloud-based server. This helps Amazon and similar services personalize the way it interacts with you, but opens up potential privacy problems that could later be used against you in court.
The FBI has used Fitbit data to try to locate a missing runner. And while this is a good, positive use of the device, it’s also easy to see a situation where police could use historical Fitbit data to link you to a location where a crime may have been committed, if you happen to be using the functionality that tracks your location and route while you walk.
You can turn off your Fitbit’s ability to record the GPS, but many people don’t think to, especially if they aren’t actually committing any crimes. Remember, sometimes law enforcement and prosecutors can build cases off seemingly superfluous things.
Even your smart water meter could make a case against you.
Private data like this can easily be misinterpreted. Does that mean you should never use a smart device ever?
It seems unlikely you will never come into contact with one. And in some cases it’s impossible to get by in modern society without them. When you use your smartphone to find a place to have lunch, to pay for it, to dash off work emails while you eat it and to find the easiest traffic route to get back to work it’s hard to imagine living without one. It’s already collecting a ton of data; you aren’t necessarily going to protect yourself by steering clear of smart TVs and smart fridges.
Your local power or water company might not even give you a choice: they might have installed smart meters anyway.
Instead, your real defense may be making sure your lawyer understands exactly what smart devices you own. If your lawyer knows you own them, he or she can ask the same companies for the same data so they can help understand the state’s case against you a little more thoroughly and a little faster.
Your lawyer may even be able to take some of that data and turn it into exculpatory evidence.
If modern life demands you play with a double-edged sword, you might as well get the benefit of both sides.