New Tech Data as Court Evidence?

Or why judges are as cautious as the Amish when it comes to admissable evidence

Sharing a Ride“Sharing a Ride” by Forsaken Fotos is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is my reaction to material we discussed in my CMGT530 class at Annenberg: Social Dynamics of Communication Technology. The material was Czitrom (Czitrom, 1982) and the film Devil’s Playground and it’s Amish subjects (Walker, 2002).

The Amish people have a philosophy of Ordnung where they try to slow down or reject technology that may pollute their traditions (Amish America, 2019). Czitrom wrote of the telegram’s impact on macro issues like corporate and government power (Czitrom, 1982). This made me think about today’s technology and how it was used in a murder case in California, described in October 2019 Wired Magazine (Smiley, 2019). It raises the question whether admitting as evidence of data of modern devices puts the underlying tenet of “innocent until proven guilt” in criminal proceedings at risk.

In Wired October 2019 issue, I read about Tony Aiello, a frail 4’11’ Californian in his 90s who died last month in jail awaiting trial (updated in online story) (Smiley, 2019). Accused of brutally murdering his stepdaughter Karen, he died before his guilt or innocence could be determined (Smiley, 2019). A neighbor’s doorbell camera placed Tony at the scene for a crucial 20 min period during which Karen’s Fitbit registered heart rate accelerating and then dropping to none at all. DNA and other evidence led to Tony being put in jail.

I have previously researched how wide DNA database searches and wide facial recognition database searches could lead to coincidental matches (a la the birthday paradox) and false positives, resulting in innocent people having to defend themselves in court and even serving prison time (Keys, 2017). However, this was different, as Tony was a suspect very early on. Nevertheless, device data and expert testimony can be incomprehensible to jury members and also accepted without understanding, even with all its flaws and without establishing motive (Gibson 2017).

With each new technology it’s really important to establish the characteristics of the devices and their data quality before admitting it, if “innocent until proven guilty” and justice is to prevail in our courts in future.

Citations

Amish America. (2019). Do Amish use technology? Retrieved October 23, 2019, from Amishamerica.com website: http://amishamerica.com/do-amish-use-technology/

Czitrom, D. J. (1982). Media and the American Mind From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Gibson, A.J. 2017, On the face of it: CCTV images, recognition evidence and criminal prosecutions in New South Wales, PhD Thesis.

Keys, T. (2017). Image Processing in The Age of Surveillance [Personal Blog]. Retrieved October 23, 2019, from Tracy Keys website: https://tracykeys.net/2019/10/23/image-processing-in-the-age-of-surveillance/

Smiley, L. (2019, October). A Brutal Murder, a Wearable Witness, and an Unlikely Suspect. Wired, 2019(27.10). Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/telltale-heart-fitbit-murder/

Walker, L. (2002). Devil’s Playground—Full Movie | Snagfilms. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0h4nRYZ8d0

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