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Fast Track To Jail [Print Archives]

Words by: Kyle Eustice

From The Source Magazine Issue #270 | 2016


Fitness tracking devices are the latest tools in law enforcement.

When a woman was arrested in Lancaster County, PA for making a false police report after her Fitbit revealed she had been walking around during the time she was allegedly raped, the case opened up a brand new lane for investigators.

The woman, who claimed she was sexually assaulted while asleep in her bed, had been wearing the fitness-tracking device throughout the day, tracking her every movement. Once she turned over the username and password for her Fitbit account to police, what they found contradicted her account of what happened that night.

Interestingly enough, it’s not the first time Fitbit data was used in court. In 2014, a Canadian woman used the data from her tracker in a personal injury lawsuit. In that case, the Fitbit wearer used the data to defend her request for compensation to illustrate she was clearly less active after a car accident.

Although it’s not required to hand over a fitness tracker to police if they ask, they can try to get a search warrant for it, just as they would for a car or cellphone. In the case of the Canadian woman, the lawyers are relying on an analytics company called Vivametrica, which compares individual data to data of the general population collected by Fitbits.

Vivametrica says they are also working with wearable tech companies and healthcare providers, seeking to “reimagine employee health and wellness programs.” With the criminal-tracking element added into the equation, however, it could be law enforcement’s latest tool for catching suspects, an exciting prospect for those sworn to protect the law.

Fitbits, or other similar fitness trackers, can provide details of a person’s activities when the crime occurred, including how many steps taken compared to the rest of the day or how the person’s heart was reacting at that particular moment.

The legal system already relies on a wide assortment of technological self-tracking devices as forms of evidence, such as GPS services, apps for tracking bike rides and even black boxes found in airplanes.

Pending further research, the shift toward fitness tracking data as a source of “truth” will undoubtedly make an impact in the legal system, but just as human acumen can be flawed, so can the information derived from these types of devices.

In the United States, the Fifth Amendment preserves the right against self-incrimination while the Sixth Amendment issues the right in criminal prosecutions “to be confronted with the witnesses” against the accused. Yet with wearable tracking tools, defining the witness is tricky. For now, it’s unclear how courts will handle the possibility of quantified self-incrimination, but in the meantime, police and lawyers have an innovative way of proving their case.

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