My sister-in-law was showing off her new iPhone when she said, “Hey, Siri, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” replied Siri, much to our surprise and amusement.
Apple’s Siri, and similar smart device digital assistants, such as Amazon Echo’s Alexa, are so apparently smart and willing to talk, that one could almost imagine them being called as a witness in a criminal trial.
“Hey, Siri, please describe for the court precisely what the defendant, William James, requested from you on the night of October 4th,” the prosecutor states firmly, with a knowing sideways glance at the jurors.
“Yes, I can recollect that information,” replies Siri. “At precisely 6:14 and 23 seconds p.m. William James said, ‘Hey Siri, what was the score in the Jets versus Patriots game?’ At precisely 10:49 and 32 seconds p.m., William James said, ‘Hey Siri, what’s the best way to completely dispose of a human body?’”
While such a scenario may have seemed implausible before Siri first started answering questions in 2010, such data was quickly recognized as electronically stored information (ESI) subject to ediscovery. One of the earliest criminal cases to bring in Siri as a witness involved a 2012 murder in which investigators found that the prime suspect made the Siri query of “I need to hide my roommate,” at about the time of his roommate’s disappearance. The cell phone data also showed movement towards where the body was found buried some 60 miles away, and revealed some other evidence, all of which helped convict the suspect.
Amazon’s Alexa, in particular, has been involved in several high-profile criminal cases. And because investigators often cannot retrieve potential data from the actual smart devices, they turn to the host companies, who may have the sought-after data stored in the cloud. This in turn has led to privacy concerns and legal maneuvering between the companies and the courts.
It’s unclear how often smart device host companies are being hit by search warrants and court orders for client data stored in their respective cloud servers, as these companies aren’t sharing such information with the public. While Amazon does release a report detailing the total number of warrants and court orders it receives across its entire business, it does not break them down according to type.
Whatever secrets Siri, Alexa and other assistants may be asked to divulge through ediscovery, they are just the start. With the influx of rapidly growing AI-driven Internet of Things (IoT), just about everything is getting smart and able to collect and retain data that may be subject to ediscovery. A “smart” water meter helped convict a man for murder by showing that he had washed down the crime scene with 140 gallons of water at 4:00 a.m. Smart doorbells have recorded everything from package theft to drive-by shootings to abductions. Today’s smart refrigerators can probably tell investigators the last thing you ate. With the IoT it’s becoming more a question of what isn’t smart and connected to the Internet, rather than what is.
So, the next time you start preparing to commence or defend litigation ask, “Hey, Siri, what smart devices in the IoT do we need to pull into this ediscovery?”