Can Police Access Your Virtual Assistant During a Criminal Investigation?

Can police use my virtual assistant against meNearly 69% of households in the United States have at least one type of smart home device, including high-tech equipment such as video surveillance, wireless speakers, video doorbells, and smart thermostats. For smart speakers that act as virtual assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the U.S. market size has reached 50 million and is expected to continue growing with the advancement of technology. 

In certain cases, these devices could give law enforcement access to a multitude of possible virtual witnesses for a crime that may have been committed in your private home. However, the legality surrounding the collection of evidence by intruding on one’s everyday computing devices is still obscure. The main concern for consumers is that their privacy rights are being violated, but for police investigators, a simple recording may provide substantial evidence to incriminate someone. 

Constitutional Rights and Privacy Laws That Protect Your Personal Information

The right to privacy, also referred to as the “right to be left alone,” presents the notion that your personal information should be unattainable from the public eye. The Florida Constitution  Article 1 Section 12 specifically outlines the terms under which searches and seizures are prohibited.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and against the unreasonable interception of private communications by any means, shall not be violated.”

Unfortunately, as technology takes over, personal information is gradually being collected by companies and third-party agencies. From online shopping and texts to apps and social media, there’s no telling how much information these parties have from you. 

Therefore, you may wonder, what’s protecting your personal information from scrutiny? To thoroughly understand how to protect your right to privacy, familiarize yourself with the different state laws, federal statutes, and constitutional amendments that are in place to keep your personal information secure. Although the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly mention the right to privacy, there are a handful of amendments that imply these rights, including: 

  • First Amendment: provides the freedom and privacy to believe in what you want 
  • Third Amendment: restricts the quartering of soldiers in private homes without consent
  • Fourth Amendment: protects against unreasonable searches and seizures
  • Fifth Amendment: presents the right against self-incrimination, which upholds the protection of private information
  • Ninth Amendment: originally part of the Bill of Rights, it states that the rights of the people are not restricted to just the rights outlined in the Constitution 
  • Fourteenth Amendment: Forbids states from establishing laws that infringe upon personal protections

Since the 1970s, one of the main agencies demanding privacy policies has been the Federal Trade Commision (FTC). Statues and laws put in effect and administered by both Congress and the FTC to ensure the protection your personal information include:  

  • The Privacy Act of 1974
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act
  • Financial Monetization Act
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  • Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

What Constitutes Probable Cause for Police to Access Your Virtual Assistant? 

Now that you’re aware of your constitutional rights and privacy laws, you may think that you are fully protected from police accessing your virtual assistant smart speaker. However, this may not always be the case. 

For Amazon Echo’s and Google Homes to properly work, they are programmed to listen for questions and commands. These devices can only be activated by “wake up words” that the device is equipped with or that you create later. As soon as the device picks up on the hot word, the servers begin recording the inquiries you have. Police have a pretty thorough system in place to determine where an actual crime has occurred and the recordings from your virtual assistant can help them obtain evidence of what might have happened. 

The difficulty with this is that there is no way for police to be certain that enough evidence even exists on your smart speaker without having the chance to listen to the recordings. Police anticipate that there could possibly be proof, but have no definite knowledge if there is any at all. Another complicating factor is that an officer must have probable cause to acquire any private information. 

Determining probable cause requires officers to present a combination of facts and circumstances, and show how that led them to have more than just mere suspicion that a crime may or may not have been committed. For a judge to issue a search warrant, arrest, or seizure of your personal properties, there must be a high level of certainty that your virtual assistant contains compromising evidence. Still, unless police have evidence that a wake word triggered your device, it will be challenging for them to obtain probable cause. 

Other Types of Data Law Enforcement Can Access on Your Devices 

Even though government entities aren’t allowed access to recordings from your virtual assistant without probable cause, there are still other types of data law enforcement can access on your devices. These include: 

  • Phone records
  • Location data
  • IP addresses
  • Emails
  • Email drafts 
  • Text messages
  • Cloud data
  • Social media 

To protect yourself and your personal information, make sure you’re aware of what you sign up for and where the information on your device is stored.

Uphold Your Right to Privacy with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Orlando  

If police obtain a warrant to access the recordings on your virtual assistant or other smart devices, or you believe that police performed an illegal search and seizure, you need to immediately speak with a criminal defense lawyer in Orlando. Depending on what evidence the police may have against you, penalties can be life-altering. An attorney will get started on outlining the details of your case, including determining if there was a lack of probable cause.  

At The Umansky Law Firm, we stress the importance of knowing your rights when faced with privacy-invading situations. Understanding the right to privacy helps our clients prevent their personal information from being accessed and used against them. With over 100 years of combined criminal defense experience, we have what it takes to win your case and will ensure that you receive professional and transparent representation throughout the entire legal process. Call (407) 537-0487 or complete our contact form for your free consultation today.