Source: Chicago Tribune
By: Justin Jouvenal
The firefighter found Richard Dabate on the floor of his kitchen, where he had made a desperate 911 call minutes earlier, court records show. Bleeding and lashed to a chair with zip ties, the man moaned a chilling warning: “They’re still in the house.”
Smoke hung in the air, and a trail of blood led to a darkened basement, as Connecticut State Police swarmed the large home in the Hartford suburbs two days before Christmas in 2015.
Richard, 41, told authorities a masked intruder with a “Vin Diesel” voice killed his wife, Connie, in front of him and tortured him. Police combed the home and town of Ellington but found no suspect.
With no witnesses other than Richard Dabate, detectives turned to the vast array of data and sensors that increasingly surround us. An important bit of evidence came from an unlikely source: the Fitbit tracking Connie’s movements.
Others from the home’s smart alarm systems, Facebook, cellphones, email and a key fob allowed police to re-create a nearly minute-by-minute account of the morning that they said revealed Richard’s story was an elaborately staged fiction.
Undone by his data, Richard was charged with his wife’s murder. He has pleaded not guilty.
The case, which is in pretrial motions, is perhaps the best example to date of how Internet-connected, data-collecting smart devices such as fitness trackers, digital home assistants, thermostats, TVs and even pill bottles are beginning to transform criminal justice.
The ubiquitous devices can serve as a legion of witnesses, capturing our every move, biometrics and what we have ingested. They sometimes listen in or watch us in the privacy of our homes. And police are increasingly looking to the devices for clues.
The prospect has alarmed privacy advocates, who say too many consumers are unaware of the revealing information these devices are harvesting. They also point out there are few laws specifically crafted to guide how law enforcement officials collect smart-device data.
Andrew Ferguson, a University of the District of Columbia law professor, says we are entering an era of “sensorveillance” when we can expect one device or another to be monitoring us much of the time. The title of a law paper on the topic put the prospect this way: “Technology is Killing Our Opportunity to Lie.”
The business research company Gartner estimates 8.4 billion devices were connected to the internet in 2017, a 31 percent increase over the previous year. By 2020, the company estimates there will be roughly three smart devices for every person on the planet.
“Americans are just waking up to the fact that their smart devices are going to snitch on them,” Ferguson said. “And that they are going to reveal intimate details about their lives they did not intend law enforcement to have.”