A new type of court case is slowly but demonstrably taking shape within the American legal system: alleged crimes being detected from data supplied by smart home devices.
In December of last year an Arkansas murder case made headlines not so much for the death itself, but how a suspect was brought into custody. James Bates hosted a party at his Bentonville home on the night of November 21st, 2015. At some point during the event a man drowned in a hot tub on the property. Bates claimed to have found the victim the next morning when he awoke, stating that it was a tragic accident, but Arkansas police obtained smart water meter readings that showed an anomaly between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Based solely on this data – and obtained without a warrant – Bates was arrested and charged with 1st degree murder.
Somewhat ironically, James Bates subsequently requested recordings from his Amazon Echo to defend himself against these charges. So far Amazon appears to be fighting this request. At stake could be the very nature of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution in addition to the freedom or incarceration of James Bates.
Meanwhile, another case has presented itself in New Mexico where a voice-activated smart device called law enforcement during an alleged altercation. As reported by ABC News:
Eduardo Barros was house-sitting with his girlfriend and her daughter Sunday night at a residence in Tijeras, some 15 miles east of Albuquerque. The couple got into an argument and the altercation became physical, according to the Bernalillo County Sheriff Department’s spokesperson, Deputy Felicia Romero.
Barros allegedly wielded a firearm and threatened to kill his girlfriend, asking her: “Did you call the sheriffs?” A smart speaker, which was hooked up to a surround sound system inside the home, recognized that as a voice command and called 911, Romero said.
After an hours-long standoff, the suspect was taken into custody and charged. In this case, law enforcement is touting smart technology as having “saved a life.” And apparently the presiding judge is accepting the evidence regardless of how it was obtained, saying that there was indeed probable cause for the arrest – no warrant needed.
Vin Armani and Aaron Dykes cover this emerging privacy crisis in the following two videos and how the American legal system might adjust to a modern life filled with pervasive surveillance devices.