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When our devices provide incriminating evidence: Part II

| Feb 10, 2017 | Theft & Property Crimes |

In our last post, we began a discussion about the privacy problems posed by our electronic devices. Not only do our devices collect and store information about our daily movements and activities, they sometimes share that information without our knowledge or consent. The incident in our last post was a particularly striking example.

In other cases, police may obtain search warrants for electronic records. A recent case involved a man who was charged with arson and insurance fraud after police examined data from his implanted heart monitor.

Last September, an Ohio man called police to say that his house was burning down. He told dispatchers that he noticed the fire, went to his bedroom, packed several bags and threw them out the window.

Given that the man has an artificial heart (and therefore has limited stamina), police were suspicious. A cardiologist cited in court documents said that the man’s version of events was “highly improbable” given his health condition.

Ultimately, police obtained a search warrant to examine the electronic records of the man’s pacemaker around the time of the fire. The examined data included the man’s heart rate, heart rhythms and the demand on the pacemaker. The data suggested he was lying.

Investigators seemingly confirmed that the man was lying when they found that the fire had “multiple points of origin” from outside the house, and that the man allegedly had gasoline on his clothes.

Although the latter pieces of evidence are conventional, the electronic records from the medical device are possibly unprecedented. Given that the man needs this device to live, it is arguably part of him. Can this be reconciled with the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination?

As our electronic devices become ever more sophisticated and ubiquitous, the issue of personal data as evidence will become even more pressing. If you have been charged with a crime, please seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.


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