Florida lawmakers want to require warrants to search smart devices

Law enforcement is beginning to grow dependent on using smart devices to solve crimes due to location tracking and recording abilities. Photo courtesy Getty images

Florida legislators have introduced a bill that would require law enforcement to seek a warrant prior to conducting real-time tracking using cellular devices. HB 1457 would amend current statutes and align the state with the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in the Riley v. California case.

In Riley v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that cell phones cannot be used as a weapon against law enforcement, therefore if a cell phone is obtained during a search it may be seized and held; however, it cannot be searched until a warrant is obtained proving probable cause.

As the role of electronics increases in the day to day life of Americans, often the users are left with the choice of protecting their privacy or utilizing electronic devices. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wengay Newton, says this measure would strike a balance between the choices.

“Person should not have to choose between using household technology advancements or preserving their rights to privacy in-home. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people to secure their persons, homes and papers against unreasonable searches,” Newton said.

The measure also includes time limitations and requires officers to serve a copy on the person whose property law enforcement tracked within 90 days of the location being monitored.

The proposed law follows years of controversy of whether microphone enabled household devices and cell phones should be included in search warrants. Devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have been known to record conversations and store location data.

Last year, a Florida woman was killed when a spear she was holding snapped, impaling her chest during an argument with her boyfriend. Investigating law enforcement believed that the key to the crime could be found in an audio recording in the couple’s Alexa home device.

The officers petitioned the court to allow Amazon to release the recordings. Amazon proceeded to release several records to law enforcement. However, the contents of the recorded information have not been released to the public.

Amazon representatives have insisted that the device only records conversations when the device has been awakened by the wake phrase “Hey Alexa.” This means that each time you wake the device an audio transcript is created.

It’s fairly common that many people activate Alexa without trying. According to the Bloomberg report, at least 100 transcripts of conversation are uploaded to the cloud every day recorded by Alexa without purposely being activated.

These smart devices can be powerful crime solving tools. Yet to some, the devices seem invasive. Ambiguous feelings about the device’s features have not hindered sales. Amazon revealed in January that it has currently sold over 100 million devices with Alexa’s built-in capabilities.