The world of technology advances at a rapid pace. As recently as 2015 and 2016 the FBI and Apple argued in Federal Court about whether or not Apple was required to unlock the iPhone 6 of the man accused of the San Bernardino shooting which killed 14 people and injured 22. At that time, the FBI simply did not have the ability to get past the security password on the phone to look at the content. Think about that, the United States Government did not possess the necessary technology to access the content of that phone while investigating a terrorist act. Today, it takes less than 1 hour to get in that same phone and private companies can do it. As a criminal defense attorney, my team and I regularly subpoena phones and “extract” them using our own experts. How times have changed.
Think about how much information is on your phone. It contains private conversations. Location data and an immeasurable amount of personal information. In the context of modern day criminal prosecutions, investigators and government prosecutors recognize the value of the phone and now, almost always, seek to collect the phone of a suspect as evidence of a crime. They do this because the phone of a person accused of a crime could contain a “smoking gun” piece of evidence that demonstrates the citizen is guilty of what he or she was accused. Similarly, that same phone could prove that a person accused of a murder, was actually miles away from that location. Juries, judges, and regular citizens find this evidence to be very compelling.
Now, in 2020, it is not just our phones that contain evidence that could help or hurt -smart devices generally have become important. Investigators are now collection Google home devices, Alexa, Nest Thermostats, Ring Doorbells and all other manner of smart devices to prove allegations. The problem with this is that the people accusing a citizen of a crime are not always the best people to recognize that those devices also contain evidence that is favorable to the citizen accused of the crime. I have personally handled cases where phone data has exonerated my client. But the Defense team had to get that data, the investigators were not interest in it.
The question then becomes, how can we preserve our privacy while still preserving some of this electronic data in case we need it? The answer is really something that can be applied to any interaction with people or law enforcement and that is keep your private information private and do not volunteer it to law enforcement. Put a password on your phone, turn on the encryption. Do not share that password with others. Do not share with police; treat police like any other stranger. You would not let some random person on the street look in your phone voluntarily, so do not let police. They will ask if they think you committed a crime, decline. If you are being accused of a crime, and still have your device, preserve it. Back it up, put it in airplane mode and take it to your lawyer. Do not delete or attempt to manipulate the content.
Other smart devices like those listed above tend to be in your home and can be protected from investigators by protecting the sanctity of your home. Do not allow searches without warrants; respectfully decline. Treat law enforcement who are investigating you like the strangers that they are.
Finally, if you are accused of a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to get the data off of your devices and make it work to defend you, not convict you. At Byars Law we regularly use advanced techniques and experts to make your smart devices work to help you, not hurt. If you have been accused of a crime and believe your devices contain information which may help you, do not hesitate to contact us at Byars Law to see if we can assist you in using that data to formulate a defense to the things your accused of.