DIG­I­TAL DE­TEC­TIVES

Your tech­nol­ogy may be­tray you

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A CONNECTICUT MAN’S claim that his wife was mur­dered by an in­truder has been chal­lenged by de­tec­tives due to his wife’s Fit­bit. It recorded her mov­ing about the house an hour af­ter her sup­posed death. An Arkansas man’s mur­der of a friend was caught out by his Ama­zon Echo, which cap­tured ac­ci­den­tal record­ings, and by his wa­ter me­ter, which recorded his at­tempts to wash away blood in the early hours. And an Ohio man’s at­tempted in­sur­ance fraud was un­cov­ered by data on his pace­maker, which showed he wasn’t asleep when he claimed his house “ac­ci­den­tally” caught fire.

All re­cent ex­am­ples of how tech­nol­ogy can catch us out. As the IoT ex­pands, we are be­ing mon­i­tored and recorded on an un­prece­dented scale, our cells, watches, and cars all track and record. A new breed of de­tec­tive is be­ing born, one who sifts through our dig­i­tal foot­print for clues. Of­ten, it’s not that dif­fi­cult ei­ther—a sur­pris­ing num­ber of peo­ple re­search their in­tended crimes on Google, for in­stance, or use their sat­nav to make jour­neys they later deny.

In our ev­ery­day lives, we leave a con­sid­er­able dig­i­tal trail. And who owns that, and how much pri­vacy over it we have, has yet to be clar­i­fied. Ini­tially, Ama­zon re­fused to hand over data to in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the Arkansas case, claim­ing it was pro­tected un­der the First Amend­ment. The sus­pect vol­un­teered the data, pre­sum­ably think­ing it wouldn’t be in­crim­i­nat­ing, which avoided a stand-off. The law has a lot of catch­ing up to do. Un­til then, com­pa­nies such as Ap­ple and Ama­zon will set their own poli­cies on what they will hand over and to whom.

The power and con­ve­nience of tech­nol­ogy is mar­velous, but as a price for that we of­ten give away de­tails of our pri­vate lives that we might hes­i­tate to tell our neigh­bors. The sur­veil­lance is not be­ing foisted upon us, we will­ingly buy it. How much of this col­lected data can be used against us is a de­bate to come. Mean­while, de­tec­tives will be do­ing a lot more de­tect­ing from the desk­top.

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