Does smart home technology give police a window into your "nest"?

The internet of things is rampantly overtaking every area of life. Most of us carry smartphones nearly every waking hour. When we're out and about, GPS systems and commercial security cameras make it easy to track our whereabouts. And an increasingly popular type of technology blankets virtually all areas of our homes in surveillance.

These smart home systems are designed to make life more convenient. They allow us to remotely lock doors, adjust the thermostat, control the lights and make sure that we didn't accidentally leave the garage door open. They include listening devices like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home. And they include sweeping security systems that record time-stamped video footage, among other things.

Just one of these systems could play a pivotal role in a criminal investigation. And taken together, they give police a virtual window into our lives, detailing our every movement and, potentially, every conversation.

home with smart security systems under a microscope

How smart technology implicated one man in his wife's murder

Just last year, data from a smart security system implicated a 40-year-old Connecticut man in his wife's murder. When police first arrived at the couple's home, the husband - tied to a chair and bleeding - told an elaborate story of how a masked intruder shot his wife before running off. The husband claimed he'd come home from work because he got an alert from their security system. However, it turned out the alarm was activated from within the home. The timing of the alarm - as well as data from the victim's Fitbit - undermined critical details in the husband's story. He currently awaits trial on murder charges.

When and how can police access this data?

All police need to obtain troves of digital data is a search warrant - or, in some cases, even less than that. A warrant requires probable cause, which grants some degree of protection to the accused. Yet, some tech companies will turn over digital data even when there's no warrant - in response to a subpoena or official police request, for example.

That's why consumers should review the terms of service for each of their smart devices. Where is the audio/video footage or other data stored? Who has access to it? How long is it kept? How securely is it encrypted? And what's the company policy on responding to requests for this data?

Granted, most people won't bother to look into these details. But it's certainly something to be aware of. Data from smart devices is bound to play a big role in criminal cases of all kinds, from burglary and arson to sex offenses and murder.

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North Carolina vs. M.W.
Charge: Charge: Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon (4 Counts), First Degree Burglary, Conspiracy to Commit Robbery with A Dangerous Weapon
Facing: 12 - 17 years in prison
Result: Dismissed

An incarcerated defendant accused our client of participating in the robbery of a group of youth at a party. We were able to raise doubt as to the credibility of this individual. In the end, the prosecutor dismissed these charges, citing a lack of evidence.