You may already know that if the police want to track your comings and goings, your cell phone has become the digital equivalent to a bloodhound. Because it communicates in the background with nearby cell phone towers, and your phone provider records and saves these “pings” in a way that police can search through, they can effectively trace your approximate whereabouts as long as you are carrying your phone.
What is more, through the use of technology like “Stingray” devices that mimic cell phone towers and fool your phone into communicating with them without you being aware of it, police now do not even need to rely on your phone company to gather location information on you; they can find out on their own.
The use of location tracking data can be helpful to law enforcement in at least a couple of ways: if they are trying to situate you in the proximity of a crime scene, or if they want to catch you being untruthful in your statements about where you have been. This can be used as “impeachment evidence” against you later on to charge you with having the opportunity to commit a crime, or to paint you in a bad light in the eyes of a jury.
But what you may not know is that your mobile phone is only one of a growing number of electronic devices that is quietly collecting data about you. And police investigators and prosecutors are gradually catching on to the possibilities these present as ways to use your own technology against you.
Consider some real-world examples of how this can happen: in one case, police accessed a man’s heart pacemaker data to show that he was lying about the details of his home burning down; he was subsequently charged with having committed insurance fraud and arson. In another case, police were able to gain access to voice data from a person’s “Amazon Echo” home assistant device to help them collect evidence in a murder investigation.
“The Internet of Things”
The fact is that more and more of the things you use on a day-to-day basis, from wearable technology to your home appliances and your vehicle, are constantly connected to the Internet and “informing” on you: how you use them, for how long, where and when. The intended purpose of this stealthy information gathering is to help product makers to make improved products that will serve you better.
But sometimes an intended benefit can bring with it unintended side effects, and the loss of personal privacy that this remote data collection brings with it is a good example. While it might be annoying to know that companies are spying on you through what you buy from them, that the government in general and the police in particular can access the same information to potentially make you unwittingly testify against yourself, based on a legal theory that data you disclose to third parties doesn’t deserve the same Constitutional protections it otherwise might, is chilling from more than just a criminal defense perspective.
It may be that presently police departments and investigators in Oklahoma and elsewhere do not yet fully understand nor appreciate what a potent tool they have when it comes to using this Internet of Things against private persons, but it would be unrealistic to expect such ignorance to last for long. Defense attorneys must be able to adapt their strategies and tactics in and out of the courtroom to provide their clients with the best possible legal representation in the face of this growing technological menace to privacy and liberty.