A connected heart just helped convict a man of arson

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

  • Connecting devices to each other and to the internet can make them much smarter, and much more usable, but increasingly companies and law enforcement are using connected devices to track, log and analyse our activities, and that has some serious privacy implications


 

People have been interested in crimes of the heart for millennia but now, thanks to the increasingly connected world we’re living in it’s also now possible for your heart to give up some of your most intimate secrets – whether you like it or not. And that’s precisely happened to a Middletown, Ohio man who was indicted on arson and insurance fraud charges after police reviewed data collected from his pacemaker, as well as other evidence.

 

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On Tuesday, the man in question, Ross Compton, pleaded not guilty to setting his home on fire on September 19 2016, and according to police statements he told police that when he saw that a fire had broken out in his house he hurriedly packed some items in a suitcase and bags, busted a window with his walking cane, tossed the stuff out the window, rushed out of the house, and carried all the stuff to his car. He also mentioned to the cops that he had an artificial heart.

Suspicious, the police sought a warrant for Compton’s pacemaker data, which they later described as some of the “key pieces of evidence.”

Pacemakers monitor and help control the heart’s rhythm. The data reviewed by police from the night of the fire would reveal Compton’s heart rate, the activity level of the pacemaker, and heart rhythms. A cardiologist who reviewed the data said that it was “highly improbable” that Compton had carried out all of the activity he described to police the night of the fire.

As local WLWT-TV reports, authorities also found gasoline on Compton’s shoes, pants, and shirt, plus multiple origins of the fire. Authorities estimated the fire caused $400,000 worth of damages.

 

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“We as a society value our rights to maintain privacy over personal and medical information, and compelling citizens to turn over protected health data to law enforcement erodes those rights,” said Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

As police and other companies, such as insurers, increasingly subpoena data from the connected devices around us, and in us, more civil rights groups are clamouring to raise alarm bells about how the data from them is used and its impact on our privacy. And while in this case you can argue that it was a good use of personal data, as we increasingly hear how companies from Amazon to Samsung are using anything from Smart TV’s to connected home devices to collect information – or spy, depending on your point of view – on us, at some point people need to seriously consider if we need to draw a line, and if so where before it’s too late and there’s no privacy left, and that’s before I shine a light on a new era of pre-crime technology.

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