Are Siri and Alexa the Next Expert Witnesses?

Smart devices have streamlined our daily lives, enabling us to do and learn more. Now, they may be used in the course of digital investigations. Smart speakers equipped with virtual assistants, like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, are especially rife with digital evidence that could enable investigators to solve or prove a crime was committed. As homeowners and businesses build out their spaces with smart devices connected to their WiFi, the amount of potential forensics data increases. The voice recordings from the digital assistants may be the evidence prosecutors need to put the criminal behind bars.

Why Virtual Assistants Would Be Useful for Investigations

Smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and mobile devices can connect with other devices like smart TVs and smart home security systems to create a “smart house” that responds to users’ voice commands. To turn on the lights in the kitchen or lock the front door, the user simply needs to say the device’s wake word (“Hey, Alexa”) and state the command. As soon as the smart device’s wake word is used, a recording will start. The device will then run this recording through a speech-recognition cloud network to produce an accurate response, such as turning on the lights or locking the door.

The voice recordings from Alexa and Siri are automatically saved and can be retrieved at any time. These recordings could be used to corroborate or disprove a suspect’s alibi. For example, suppose a suspect’s alibi heavily relies on the fact that they were out of town during the crime. In that case, investigators could listen to the voice recordings from the virtual assistant to see if the person initiated any commands while they were supposedly away. The voice recordings could provide a slew of evidence related to the perpetrator, victim, and timing of the crime.

Criminal investigators can also use data from smart devices like a smart meter to determine if an excessive amount of water or electricity was used during the time of a crime, like a drowning or electrocution. Additionally, a smart security system could have captured video recordings of the people who came and went around the time of the crime. When it comes to smart devices, all the digital evidence is there. It just becomes a question of whether an investigator can legally access it.

How the Smart Device’s Evidence Would Be Used in Court

Whether voice or video recordings from smart devices were introduced at trial, the evidence would need to be analyzed by technical experts. These experts would need to explain how the recordings were made and testify to the accuracy of the user data on the device and any possible tampering with the device.

It’s important to note that a device owner can object to the use of the device in a criminal investigation, stating it is an unreasonable search and seizure under the 4th Amendment. The court would then need to prove probable cause to continue the search. Alternatively, the device owner could say the user data on the device is private. In this case, the court would have to weigh the user’s right to privacy against the other party’s need for data.

Collect Smart Device Evidence Wisely

As technology develops, investigative teams and lawyers should not shy away from presenting digital evidence retrieved from smart devices. Digital forensics experts can access and help analyze pertinent evidence without harming the data.

If you need assistance retrieving digital data for a criminal investigation, get in touch with our e-Discovery vendors today!

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