Devices Like Fitbit Provide Evidence to Police

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Richard Dabate of Connecticut told police that a masked intruder killed his wife, Connie. Police found no suspect but they did find a Fitbit tracking Connie’s movements, which they say showed that Richard’s story was an elaborately staged fiction. the Washington Post reports that the case, which is in pretrial motions, is an example “of how Internet-connected, data-collecting smart devices such as fitness trackers, digital home assistants, thermostats, TVs and even pill bottles are beginning to transform criminal justice.” The ubiquitous devices can serve as witnesses, capturing people’s every move, biometrics and what they have ingested. The devices sometimes listen in or watch people in the privacy of our homes. Police are increasingly looking to them for clues.

The prospect has alarmed privacy advocates, who say too many consumers are unaware of the revealing information these devices are harvesting. Few laws regulate how law enforcement officials collect smart-device data. Andrew Ferguson, a University of the District of Columbia law professor, says we are entering an era of “sensorveillance” when we can expect one device or another to be monitoring us much of the time. “Technology is Killing Our Opportunity to Lie” is the title of a legal paper on the subject. The business research company Gartner estimates 8.4 billion devices were connected to the Internet in 2017, a 31 percent increase over the previous year. By 2020, the company estimates there will be roughly three smart devices for every person on the planet. “Americans are just waking up to the fact that their smart devices are going to snitch on them,” Ferguson said. “And that they are going to reveal intimate details about their lives they did not intend law enforcement to have.”

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