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Usage of IoT in Criminal Investigation

IoT devices will play an increasingly important role in crime scene investigations. Police are being trained to look for “digital footprints” from IoT gadgets that “track or record activities” that might prove or disprove alibis and witness statements, as well as record what occurred during a murder victim’s final moments.

Relying on Evidence from All Smart Devices

Cops will rely on evidence from smart devices that spies, such as internet-connected refrigerators, light bulbs, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, coffee makers and voice-controlled robotic assistants. For example, a robotic vacuum cleaner such as Unibot, which will be shown off at CES 2017, comes equipped with a security camera so it can send owners pictures and videos in real time in case it detects “unusual signs in its peripheral vision.”

All manner of smart items meant to provide convenience could also potentially be used to narc on you are used by the police to gather evidence. Some folks won’t be bothered by that since they willingly carry a smartphone, which can double as a surveillance device. Smartphones are frequently targeted by law enforcement during investigations.

Millions of people already wear wearables, but in the future, even a person’s clothes will be able to provide location data. There are already some smart clothes, such as “vibrating” jeans, which connect to a smartphone and vibrate on one side or the other in order to give GPS map directions without the user needing to whip out their phone.

No Seizing and Hauling Off Smart Devices for Investigation Purpose

When cops start looking for “digital footprints” in IoT gadgets, it supposedly won’t be like when the cops seize a hard drive, laptop or computer for an indefinite period during an investigation. Smart devices won’t need to be seized and hauled off. Instead, investigators will use a “digital forensics kit,” which is yet to be developed, to download data and analyze microchips at the scene.

Use Case of Criminal Investigation using IoT Data

The idea that police would use data provided by IoT devices is nothing new. Police in Arkansas is pressuring Amazon to hand over data from an Echo device. The cops think some of the recorded audio data sent to the personal assistant “Alexa” may be helpful for their murder investigation. Amazon did not comply other than sending the suspect’s purchase history.

Bentonville police detectives have already used IoT data from a connected water meter. The cops think the massive spike in water usage on the night of a murder may indicate the hot tub and patio had been hosed down to wash away blood evidence.

Another example of IoT Data being used for criminal investigation by police happen in Connecticut, where recent data from a murdered woman’s Fitbit led Connecticut police to arrest her husband in connection with the death. After over a year of investigations, the Hartford police charged Richard Dabate with his wife’s murder, tampering with physical evidence, and making false statements to the police after her Fitbit showed she was still walking around an hour after he claimed she was murdered by an intruder.

Criminal Investigation using IoT is Highly Relevant

Impeachment evidence is always relevant as the use of IoT technology to corroborate testimony is an important step to curing the unreliability of witness testimony. The fact of the matter is that the human memory is fallible, while technology is not. Just as when ballistics and DNA evidence became prominent, fact-finders will no longer be left with a subjective decision as to which testimony is credible. Rather, they can assess the credibility of testimony based on the timeline established by the evidence.

At the same time, users of IoT need be cognizant of the fact that these very personal devices, worn every minute of the day or listening in our homes, come at a very real privacy cost. If IoT is in use, users must balance the risk that their data will be used in court. Nevertheless, IoT technology virtually changed criminal investigation and IoT evidence in court will be a landmark.


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