Alexa, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Law chief says smart devices could be used as star witnesses in court cases

  • Max Hill QC reveals evidence on smart devices is playing role in criminal trials 
  • He said the so-called ‘internet of things’ would transform criminal investigations 
  • But civil liberty groups have since raised concerns at the DPP’s comments

Smart devices such as the voice-activated computer assistant Alexa could be star witnesses in court cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions said yesterday.

Max Hill QC revealed evidence gathered on internet-connected devices such as smart doorbells, GPS technology and digital assistants including Amazon’s Alexa-driven Echo, Google Home or Apple’s Siri is playing a new role in criminal trials.

The Crown Prosecution Service chief said dashcam footage and car GPS systems were already proving central in prosecutions including murder cases. 

Smart devices such as the voice-activated computer assistant Alexa could be star witnesses in court cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions said yesterday [File photo]

He told the Westminster Policy Forum that the so-called ‘internet of things’ would transform criminal investigations by silently recording the movements of suspects, victims and perpetrators.

Mr Hill said: ‘As little as 15 years ago criminal investigations and subsequent prosecutions were likely to focus on the crime scene for evidence backed up by eye witness testimonies and door-to-door enquiries.

‘The digital devices which are becoming part of the fabric of everyday life, like smartphones, social media and even things like Alexa, can actively provide key evidence to pinpoint whereabouts, provide footage of an incident or a timeline. Alexa has already been used as a line of enquiry in a murder case in the US. The opportunities and threats presented by the digital age [are] a constantly evolving challenge for all parts of the criminal justice system.’

Max Hill QC (pictured) revealed evidence gathered on internet-connected devices such as smart doorbells, GPS technology and digital assistants including Amazon’s Alexa-driven Echo, Google Home or Apple’s Siri is playing a new role in criminal trials

Mr Hill gave the example of a GPS system in a Land Rover Discovery becoming instrumental in a murder case.

Retired lecturer Gerald Corrigan, 74, was hit with a crossbow arrow as he adjusted a satellite dish at his home on Anglesey, north Wales, in April last year.

Killer Terence Whall tried to cover his tracks by setting fire to a Land Rover he had used.

But the vehicle’s on-board data recording was stored back at Jaguar Land Rover.

When police obtained the data, it revealed Whall had used the car for reconnaissance and travelled to the crime scene, opening the boot for 39 seconds to remove the crossbow before he carried out the shooting.

Civil liberty groups raised concerns at the comments, however. 

They said the prospect of police requesting personal devices and data from web-connected gadgets was worrying given the CPS and police had to scrap controversial digital consent forms asking rape victims to hand over mobile phones.

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