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IoT and evidence: Will your smart home work against you?

It may seem like something straight off the SyFy channel. A tragic death occurs at a home after a group of young men get together to watch a football game. Was it an accident? Was it murder? The police have a way to get evidence about the potential crime - a smart home device that may have been recording conversations during the alleged altercation.

The storyline above, of course, is not the plotline for a movie. It is reality. It involves the tragic death of a young man in Arkansas and is under investigation. Media reports picked up the investigation because it involves a rather novel attempt to get data from an Echo device.

What kind of evidence were the enforcement officers looking for? Echo devices are designed to listen for a start-up word. Upon hearing this word, the device is supposed to activate and respond to a command. Commands could include, "Alexa, please turn on some music" and the like. Police believe that the device may have stored voice recordings from the period of time when the death occurred.

The death is listed as the result of strangulation and drowning.

Were the police able to find any evidence? Amazon declined to provide any data that may be saved on the device. However, it is important to note that this was not the only smart home device operating in the home at the time of the death.

In addition to the Echo unit, the homeowner also had a smart water meter. This meter registered an unusually large amount of water usage, 140 gallons to be exact, between the hours of 1 and 3 a.m. This evidence was used against the homeowner to support criminal charges.

Is anything being done to protect the privacy of those who use smart home devices? A group of businesses including AT&T and IBM recently announced that they are forming an alliance with the goal of safeguarding information from devices that ends up on the Internet of Things (IoT). Information that could include the potential recordings like those the police were attempting to retrieve in the case noted above.

The group aims to influence security standards and policies implemented in the IoT.

What can we learn from this case? While experts work together to increase the safety and privacy of the data that ends up in the IoT, consumers can learn to tread carefully. Keep in mind that these devices are storing data that could be used against you if you are charged with a crime.

If you are facing charges, enforcement officers generally need a warrant to confiscate this type of information. Anyone that finds themselves in this position is wise to seek legal counsel. An attorney can help to better ensure your rights are protected.

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