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Police data scraping could involve more than cellphones

We live in a time when our lives are our own, but our histories are captured digitally. As we noted in a post last month, greater computing power than sent man to the moon now sits in each laptop, tablet and cellphone. Not only can that power be figuratively addictive, medical research suggests the physical process of technological interactivity has a way of triggering the pleasure centers of the brain. So use of technology may be literally addicting.

Our personal digital footprints are something about which authorities in Los Angeles and elsewhere have a great deal of interest and that requires diligence in protecting the rights of individuals charged with crimes.

With every advancing day, as new technology comes online in the form of the internet of things, new challenges to rights protection develop. As small appliances become computerized, devices are digitally capturing the deeper elements of our lives and authorities are beginning to respond. A story out of Arkansas serves as a good example.

Details of the case reveal that police investigating the death of a man are seeking to hack into recordings captured by an Amazon Echo device and its interactive Alexa assistant found at the scene. A friend who owns the device is charged in the case.

Why are police interested? Tech experts note that the Echo is voice activated. It's always listening. When it hears an activating keyword, it boots up and starts sharing the audio with Amazon servers that are programmed to fashion a proper response. The audio files now exist virtually forever at Amazon.

Not surprisingly, police in the Arkansas case want to see if there's any incriminating audio and have gotten a court order to allow a search of the suspect's Echo, but Amazon is balking. It suggests the search is "overbroad or otherwise inappropriate." Legal observers might likely agree.

Meanwhile, makers of various appliances from washing machines, to refrigerators and other systems are making voice-activated products available. Is it ridiculous to think that police at some point will want to download data from your toaster? Should that be allowed?

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