Calling the Next Witness: Your Refrigerator – by Ron Benvenisti

internet_of_thingsIt’s true. Your refrigerator could put someone in the cooler, as in prison. A water meter as a witness in a murder case. It’s happening now. The introduction of “smart” devices that are connected and controlled over the internet by commands entered by hand or by voice on a phone, computer or by conversation with your fridge, microwave, thermostat or vacuum cleaner have opened a whole new world of solving crimes. That is if the providers of these services will give up the evidence.

Recently Apple refused to unlock an iPhone to the FBI in a case that clearly would have been justified on both national security and on law enforcement grounds because of the use by terrorists. That case was when Tashfeen Malik, and Syed Farook died on Dec. 2, 2015, in a gun battle with authorities several hours after their assault on a gathering of Farook’s work colleagues in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead. Apple maintained their refusal stance so the FBI had to go to the Israeli firm Cellebrite for help, but ultimately the FBI unlocked Malik’s phone on their own.

So now it’s Amazon who’s balking. The Arkansas police are seeking help from e-commerce giant Amazon for data that may have been recorded on its Echo device belonging to a suspect in a murder case. The Amazon Echo is a voice-activated microphone which controls any number of home automation devices like playing music, watching TV, making shopping lists, setting ovens, thermostats, lights, alarms, and getting real-time traffic and weather reports.

Bentonville police were issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over audio and data from the Echo device belonging to James Andrew Bates to obtain details about his alleged murder of Victor Collins.

Just like Apple refused to give it up for the San Bernardino terrorists, Amazon won’t give police any of the information that the Echo logged on the Amazon servers.

Collins died on November 21 last year while visiting Bates’ home. Collins was his friend from work, in Bentonville, Arkansas. The next morning, Collins’ dead body was discovered in Bates’ hot tub, and Bates was charged with first-degree murder.

Investigators seized the Amazon Echo device belonging to Bates, among other internet-connected devices in his home, including a water meter, a thermostat, and a Honeywell alarm system.

Because of the Echo device’s always-on feature, it’s not unusual for the Echo to activate by mistake and record information that the users didn’t intend to be recorded. Not all the commands are stored locally on the Echo but they are recorded on Amazon’s servers. The cops believe that those audio records from the night of the murder were uploaded to the Amazon servers and could contain incriminating evidence related to the case. Amazon has twice refused to allow the police access to the data logged on its servers but it did provide Bates’ account information and purchase history. Not much help there. The Bentonville investigators who are on the case said they were able to retrieve data from Bates’ Echo, but they are not disclosing what they were able to uncover as the case is still under investigation.

To further put the suspected murderer in hot water, court records show that Bates’ smart water meter ran 140 gallons of water between 1 AM and 3 AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. The prosecution claims that the water was used to wash away the evidence after he killed Collins.

The judge asks the refrigerator, “Mr. Refrigerator, did you witness anything on the night of the murder?”, The Refrigerator answers, “I do not recall, you may want to ask my internet provider”. Good luck with that.

So, what’s next, vacuum cleaners that demand ransom money or they’ll suck up all your valuables and deliver them to armed crooks waiting outside?

I would prefer a printer that turned into an ATM, no cards necessary.

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  1. in some circumstances interaction with the computer and/or recording data may present a challenge to keeping Shabbos, an issue which can be easily remedied by plugging the appliance into a certified Shabbos timer or installing a Hetken which is manufactured in Israel by Mishmeres HaShabbos

  2. This article is completely inaccurate and wrong.
    Apple (and other companies like Google and Microsoft) all the time gets served with warrants and they always fully comply. The discussion which you are bringing down with Apple refusing to unlock was if the govt. can warrant and compel a private corporation to create a custom backdoor in their product at great expense and which completely undermines the security of its products.
    Amazon however with a regular warrant for data on their server refused to comply and drag their feet.

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