The world is now a much smaller and more surveilled place. Private companies that make our smart phones, home security systems, smart home systems, baby monitors, computers, E-Z Pass, real time traffic apps and many more internet-of-things devices track, record and store information about our personal lives. Law enforcement has access to much of this information, often without the need for a warrant. Furthermore, law enforcement has its own methods to track and record private citizens through wiretaps, license plate readers, surveillance cameras, mobile tracking devices, hidden recorders and many other devices and methods.
I have written a number of times about modern technology being used in criminal investigations, from cellphone towers tracking our phones, to Alexa and other smart home devices used to record internet searches and conversations, to security cameras used to spy on their homeowners. Recently, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that Google has the ability to track which cellphones are in the area of a crime scene at a particular time. Once law enforcement narrows down which phones they are interested in, they obtain a warrant for the particular cellphone owner’s information.
I have written before about both the good advances in technology, and the negative consequences of some of those developments. Here are a few more methods high tech methods that law enforcement uses, and occasionally misuses, in its investigations.
With the advent of “smart homes and devices,” we are now in a world once only imagined in science fiction. Our phones now track our every move, contain our internet search histories and record vast portions of our lives through photos, texts, and encrypted messages. Home security devices and cameras record not only strangers coming to your home, but also you and your invited guests. Baby monitors, smart kitchen devices like refrigerators, and home devices like Amazon’s Echo, are always on and potentially recording or transmitting. And therein lies the problem.
Anything attached to the internet – the Internet of Things – can be hacked, intercepted or legitimately recorded. Since these devices are in the privacy of our own homes or businesses, they have the ability to capture our most intimate and private conversations and actions.
Back in April, I wrote about airport and border searches of average travelers coming back to the United States from their business or personal trips abroad. Since you are coming back across our border, law enforcement does not need probable cause to suspect that a crime has been committed, that you were involved, and that evidence of that criminal conduct is on your laptop, tablet or smart phone.
Fitbit Data Leads to Husband Charged with Wife’s Murder
Technology has advanced the ease and quality of life immeasurably. Smart phones are handheld computers that can surf the internet; deliver emails, texts and phone calls; take videos and pictures; make dinner reservations and track your every movement through various apps. Our cars can almost drive themselves with lane change warnings; infrared cameras; heads-up displays, cruise control with radar; event data recorders that record speed, braking and seatbelt use; and GPS tracking in case the car is stolen. Home security cameras, Amazon Echo, smart TV, smart appliances and the like can all be controlled remotely through the internet. A variety of devices that are small and comfortable enough to wear, such as Fitbits, iWatches and the like can track our movements, heart rates, calories burned, number of steps and location.