In the Courtroom: Could IOT Change How Evidence is Collected?


We love looking at how big data is affecting the legal sector, but we are also sensing the rumblings of bigger changes – specifically around how the Internet of Things is set to impact on how the legal sector operate and handle case evidence.

Thought leaders are starting to voice their views around how Internet of Things (IOT) devices could affect law enforcement in the future with one source citing how ‘intelligent’ cars could be fitted with devices that detect drivers’ alcohol levels, disabling the vehicle if recorded levels were too high.

The Internet of Things is set to offer lawyers a whole new world in terms of access to client data, for both disputing and substantiating claims.

In a recent case in the US in 2015, a defendant claimed that she was asleep during the time that a crime took place, when in fact her activity tracker showed that she was awake and active.  Wearable devices are tracking technology – and whilst that tracking tech is useful for helping you as an individual to improve your fitness levels, it can also be a method for law enforcement agencies to track what you were doing, or where you were, at a specific time.

 

Could your FitBit incriminate you?

Wearable devices such as FitBits and Garmin’s VivoFitness watches could also be used to prove claims regarding work absences due to injury or sickness – using data to track how active the defendant has been and whether their claims are backed up by data.

In the same way, GPS data in phones and devices could be used to track speeding – and maybe in the future drivers will receive automatic penalties once their car goes over the speed limit, without the need for traffic officers or speed cameras.  Just like the way car tax is purchased online now, before that was introduced we probably thought we would always have a little paper disk in our window screen.

Because wearable device data is not currently covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the data collected is not considered protected or confidential, meaning that it is not set out in law who owns the data – the manufacturer or the device owner.  As FitBit states in their privacy policy, “We will only collect data that is useful to improving Fitbit products, services and your experience” – which leaves the playing field wide open in terms of what constitutes ‘useful’ data.

 

Wearable…but removable

The issue with all of the devices mentioned, and the idea of IOT device data being used as evidence in a courtroom, is that these devices are removable – people choose to put them on, people choose to take them off, people choose to give them to someone else to wear.  Lawyers bringing in wearable device evidence also have to prove that the defendant was wearing the device at the time of the alleged crime – which could be impossible to demonstrate.

Perhaps an area where IOT device data can’t be manipulated as easily as personal trackers is in industrial negligence cases – where machinery or infrastructure malfunction has resulted in an accident or injury.  Having sensors across production lines, industrial infrastructure and factory machinery could show details about what occurred at the time of an accident – with sensor technology showing details about location, temperature, movement and usage.

In this scenario, sensors could take away the need for anecdotal evidence if there is hard evidence in the form of data to back up claims.

However this move from subjective, anecdotal evidence to purely data-focused evidence could risk becoming too objective.  In particularly complex situations, an objective data picture may not fully represent what occurred.

Therefore, could IOT device data in fact warp evidence provided in cases?

 

 

Image provided courtesy of Health Gauge.

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