Wearable devices are those worn on the body, such as a smartwatch or fitness
tracker. This type of technology has expanded over the years, and many
people have them to track their heart rate, fitness level, and location.
Some are powerful enough to send and receive text messages, stream music,
and communicate with others through a two-way radio function. Although
wearables have created greater convenience, they also have raised questions
of privacy and the legal uses of the data collected by these devices.
Technology continues to develop at an exponential rate, but the laws concerning
people’s rights are slow to catch up. Even though electronic wearable
devices have been around for years, it has only been recently that courts
have addressed privacy matters about the data on them.
Violations of Constitutional Rights
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police can’t search a
person’s cell phone without a warrant. Doing so would be a violation
of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. If a prosecutor attempts
to present such data as evidence, it could be thrown out as the product
of an unlawful search and seizure. This decision has also been applied
to the information contained in a wearable.
Additionally, courts have recently decided that forcing a person to unlock
their personal device could violate Fifth Amendment protections. All people
have the right to remain silent and not provide law enforcement with self-incriminating
evidence. Judges have said that the information on a cell phone or other
electronic device could be considered a type of testimony, and as such,
did not have to be handed over to police.
In 2019, a U.S. Judge for the Northern District of California said that
making a person unlock their device with a passcode, fingerprint, facial
scan, or other biometric data was unlawful.
Does that mean wearable data can never be used as evidence in court?
Not necessarily. If an individual gives consent or the police have a warrant
to search property, including the information on a wearable device, the
data can be presented in a trial. There have been various cases in which
a person’s vitals, location, and even steps have been used to refute
and support criminal claims.
For instance, in 2015, a man alleged that his wife was fatally shot by
a burglar in their home. As the investigation continued, something about
the story didn’t add up. When police searched the data on the woman’s
Fitbit, they found that she had taken over 1,200 steps during the time
her husband said she was in the basement. The husband was charged with
murder and tampering with evidence.
A woman in a separate case was charged with false reporting a rape after
investigators looked at the data on her fitness tracker. The information
showed that she was awake when she claimed to police that she had been sleeping.
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