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Smart Devices Tapped Into by Police During Investigations

by Kevin Bliss

Wired magazine reported earlier this year that police requests for smart-speaker user data from Amazon was up 24% from last year, 72% from the first time Amazon disclosed this information in 2016.

Police have requested 3,000 recordings from smart speakers monitored by Amazon this year. The company has complied with 2,000 of those requests, allowing law enforcement to listen in on individuals in their homes.

Douglas Orr, assistant department head of the Criminal Justice Department at the University of North Georgia, said that police use data from smart homes routinely. One device leads them to another simply by amending the search warrant.

Similar requests are also being made of homeowners using Google’s Nest. Data on smart devices can offer timelines of a person’s activities, give their location during those timelines, and possibly give audio of the activities. “Usually, the alibi you get is, ‘I was at home,’” said Orr. “Nobody can confirm that. So you ask, ‘Do you have a speaker?’”

Amazon said any number of requests can be made, but they prioritize those requests based on urgency. Homeland Security would receive the highest priority with other law enforcement agencies coming under that while civil and divorce cases would receive the lowest priority.

Voice clips are not the only information police could receive. They could also receive time-stamped logs of user activity and user location. One Florida case exemplifies how police were able to use a woman’s phone and watch to ascertain that her husband attempted to post messages on her Facebook account after he had murdered her to blur her death’s timeline and cover her disappearance. Her phone showed no activity except at times when a post would be made to Facebook. At the same time, her Apple watch registered no heartbeat or movement for the woman.

Forensic analyst Lee Whitfield said that data collected from several electronic devices to paint a picture of an event is now becoming common practice. “I just don’t see this going away,” he said. “I think this is going to be more and more prolific as time goes on.”



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