In a ground breaking victory for Big Brother, a judge in Butler County, Ohio, ruled this week he will allow evidence downloaded from a man’s pacemaker to be used at his upcoming trial. Ross Compton is facing charges of aggravated arson and insurance fraud to the tune of nearly half a million dollars after torching his Court Donegal home. This case is thought to be one of the first of its kind to use data collected in real time of a beating heart as evidence in court.
Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Spaulding was on his way to work when the call came in of a nearby fire in progress. When he arrived on the scene his trained eye instantly spotted clues the fire had started in more than one place. The unmistakable smell of gasoline also tipped him off that this was not an accidental fire. “It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him,” adds Lt. Jimmy Cunningham.
It was apparent that the 59-year-old man had very recently spilled gas on his shoes, but the story he gave officers didn’t mention how that happened. Ross told police he woke and saw the fire. Instead of fleeing right away, he “packed some belongings in a suitcase and bags,” including not just his medical device charger but also his computer along with clothes. He used his cane to break out the glass of his bedroom window. After wrangling the bags and suitcase and computer through the gap he crawled out himself and packed them in his car.
“It seemed like a lot of work for someone escaping a burning house — especially a man who needed a pacemaker and an external heart pump to survive,” Chief Spaulding observed. Over the weeks that followed, investigators looking for rock solid proof to build a case that would stick, hit on the brilliant idea that the answer was right under their nose all along. His pacemaker kept digital records. “We’d be able to see did he exceed his threshold limit… or did his pulse drop below a certain rate. It won’t say what you’re doing, obviously, but it would help corroborate his story. It was much more informative than we thought.”
The cops obtained a search warrant for “all of the electronic data stored in Compton’s cardiac pacing device,” which was painlessly collected by a technician with wireless ease. After the data was analyzed, it was presented to the Grand Jury.
You have the right to question your accuser. This fact is one of the main reasons radar speeding tickets don’t hold up in court. You cannot question a radar camera. You also cannot question a pacemaker. That does not apply here because the testimony used in court was not simply a printout of the raw heart rate, pacer demand, and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.
A heart specialist crunched the numbers to compare with Mr. Compton’s medical history and stated facts. He concluded, “it is highly improbable Mr. Compton would have been able to collect, pack and remove the number of items from the house, exit his bedroom window and carry numerous large and heavy items to the front of his residence during the short period of time he has indicated due to his medical conditions”
Compton pleaded Not-Guilty to the charges and called them “utterly insane,” claiming he had no motive to burn his house.
Since officers in Middletown used the pacemaker for corroboration, the same idea has already been used to get arrests twice in homicides, Spaulding said. Compton’s attorney argued unsuccessfully that the seizure of his private medical information was unconstitutional and unreasonable, but his argument was mostly a pro-forma attempt to provide what limited defense he could for his client. The hopes of privacy in such situations are virtually non-existent in today’s age of digital Wi-Fi interconnectivity.
Now that your every move can be monitored and recorded, privacy expert Josh Corman warns, “There are more devices and more types of devices, so this just gives you more ways for people to track you or hurt you.” FitBit Data has already been seen in court with personal injury cases and will be totally shaking up divorce litigation. “Was that heart rate spike just innocent cardio or an extramarital tryst?”
“The majority of the security industry has been focused on private sector, protecting a bank or credit cards,” points out Corman. As software started springing up in insulin pumps and cars, he became more concerned. “I’m thinking, ‘Guys, we can’t even secure credit cards with $80 billion of our best and brightest–why are we putting dependencies in areas that can kill people?’”
The growing amount of “precise location data” is a special area of concern. “In particular because these devices are small and will travel with people in all sorts of ways, they will be really revealing of people’s activity,” notes one expert. Growing use of IoT for spying on things like wearable activity trackers, traffic sensors and systems to monitor buildings makes us much more vulnerable. “Historically, our built world has been relatively inert,” he says. “It’s like the TV in your living room–you watch it but it doesn’t watch you. That is all changing.”