“Alexa, can you keep a secret?” An Analysis of 4th Amendment Protection Regarding Smart Home Devices

By Rebecca Levin

I.     Introduction

On November 5, 2018, Judge Steven M. Houran of Strafford County, New Hampshire ordered Amazon to provide authorities with audio recordings from an Amazon Echo device in the investigation of the stabbing of two women in January 2017.[1]  Judge Houran wrote the Echo device may possess recordings that give insight into the murders given the device’s location in the home where the women were found.[2]  Currently, Amazon is objecting to the legality of this order and has yet to hand over the recordings, stating they will not release the information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.”[3]  While this dispute is in the early stages; this clash over privacy rights between the government and Amazon is not the first of its kind.[4]

On February 22, 2016, in Benton County, Arkansas, prosecutors charged James Bates with the murder of Victor Collins.[5]  After the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Collins’s death a murder, law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Bates’s home where they seized an Amazon Echo device under the assumption that through use of this device Amazon possessed audio recordings that could help solve the murder in question.[6]  Prosecutors surmised the Amazon Echo inadvertently recorded audio from the night of November 21, 2015 given the device played music on the night of the alleged murder and could have inadvertently recorded evidence of the murder.[7]  Ultimately, Amazon dropped their objection to releasing the recordings when James Bates voluntarily consented to their release on March 3, 2017.[8]  These cases highlight the question of what level of protection home smart devices receive under one’s right to privacy.  This article will explore how the current laws protect smart home device users under the Fourth Amendment.

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The European Commission on the Privacy Shield: All Bark and No Bite?

By: Kimberly A. Houser[*] and W. Gregory Voss[**]

Introduction

Much has been written about the difference in the privacy laws of the European Union and the United States and ideologies behind the two regimes.[1]  One risk of the increasing divergence in views on privacy is the potential halting of data transfers from the European Union to the United States by the European Commission (EC).  As data is a significant driver of the world economy,[2] special care must be taken both to ensure that data is able to cross borders easily, and individuals’ rights to data protection are respected.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)[3] prohibits the transfer of personal data outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) to countries without “adequate” privacy protections.  As the United States is considered to have insufficient protections, the EC requires that an approved mechanism, such as the Privacy Shield—its agreement with the United States that permits U.S. companies to self-certify that they will meet certain minimum privacy protections[4]—be used for such transfers.  Alternative mechanisms include standard contractual clauses (SCCs).[5]  Suspension of any one approved mechanism may call into question the legitimacy of the others.

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Blockchain-Based Evidence Preservation: Opportunities and Concerns

By Zihui (Katt) Gu[+]

I.     Introduction

On September 3, 2018, the “Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues Concerning the Trial of Cases by Internet Courts” (hereinafter Provisions) was adopted at the 1747th session of the Judicial Committee of the Supreme People’s Court, which, for the first time, provides a comprehensive guidance on the trial process of the Internet Court from perspectives such as the scope of jurisdiction, mode of trial, acceptance of evidence, and rules of procedure.[1]  Undoubtedly, the promulgation of this regulation will play an important role in regulating the litigation activities of Internet Courts, protecting the legitimate rights and interests of parties and other litigants, and ensuring fair and efficient trials of cases.  As the most talked-about topic in 2017, blockchain technology has also been recognized in the Provisions as an eligible means to preserve evidence.  Subsection 6, Article 11 of the Provisions, stipulate that, “if the authenticity of electronic data submitted by the parties can be proved through electronic signature, trusted time stamp, hash value check, blockchain, and other tamper-proof, technical evidence collection and preservation method or through electronic evidence collection and preservation platform, the Internet court should confirm its authenticity.”[2]

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