As smart homes become more common, privacy may become less protected
Devices can track out every move, even our conversations. How much of this can police access?
What is privacy? In a world where social media updates occur in real time, where our smartphones can track our locations and where our homes have devices that are always listening, this question may be more important than ever.
Is this information ours and ours alone? How much of the information does the platform of the provider keep? Can the police access this data? What is a reasonable expectation of privacy for the user?
The answer may depend on the situation. In some cases, devices or software that we use to make our everyday lives easier may include agreements that define how the data collected by the software will be used – essentially defining privacy for us, whether we review them or not.
The popular doorbell service Ring provides a telling example. In addition to alerting members of a household that someone is at the front door, the Ring system also includes a video camera and a recording device. This allows the homeowner to see who is at the front of their home in real time and to have a recording if needed later. Under the Ring service agreement, police are given access to a special portal that allows them to communicate with Ring users. This can result in a request for data saved on their system. If the Ring user refuses, police can go directly to Ring to request the information.
Ring is not alone. Other examples of devices that collect personal information that can be used during a criminal investigation include:
· Ride share. Apps like Uber and Lyft result in location information. In most situations, these platforms only require a subpoena in order to provide the police with this information. A subpoena is different than a warrant. In order to get a warrant, the police requesting the warrant must generally establish probable cause to a neutral magistrate or judge. This requires evidence to support the contention that the information they are seeking is related to a criminal matter. A subpoena does not have this requirement. As a result, it is far easier for police to get a subpoena.
· Social media. Instagram and Facebook also only require a subpoena. Snapchat has an even lower standard. This platform will provide data if it determines the request is “reasonable.”
· Smart homes. Devices like Alexa and Echo are also gathering information in many homes throughout the country. Although they are only supposed to begin listening once key words are detected, there are questions about how much information these devices actually gather. A recent case may provide more information. In that case, a New Hampshire judge required Amazon’s Echo to provide data to enforcement officers investigating a double murder.
These examples are just a few. As such, anyone facing allegations of a crime or actual charges would be wise to act to protect his own interests. Law enforcement will scour all available means to gather evidence to build a case against you. It is wise to find legal counsel that will advocate for your interests to counter these tactics and maintain your innocence.