Electronics 360: Smart Devices Versus Privacy

Electronics 360: Smart Devices Versus Privacy by Tony Pallone:

Did you know that law enforcement could obtain a search warrant to access the data recorded by a smart device? Perhaps you’ve read about the murder case in Arkansas in which the prosecution sought to get data collected by the defendant’s Amazon Echo smart speaker on the night of the crime. Police also looked at data collected by a smart water meter, which showed a spike on the morning after—a possible indication that the accused, James Bates, had hosed away evidence of the crime.

This example, while extreme, brings up questions of privacy protection: As smart devices proliferate, where should the line be drawn? Amazon, citing privacy concerns, fought the request in the Bates murder case, but this became a moot point when the defense voluntarily agreed to release the recordings. Meanwhile, an advocacy group called Stop Smart Meters! has presented an alternate scenario for the spike in water use, and argued that law enforcement’s use of the data collected—which was obtained without a warrant—represented a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.

As published in the Cornell Law Review [posted here], law professor Andrew Ferguson makes the case for developing a new conceptual framework to keep the Fourth Amendment relevant in the digital age. In his introduction, he reminds us that “billions of sensors will soon collect data from smartphones, smart homes, smart cars, medical devices and an evolving assortment of consumer and commercial products.”

A sobering thought, when you consider the wider implications. …

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