You have the Right to Remain Silent; but does your Fitness Tracker?

Computers, internet, laptops, smartphones, tablet PCs, and now fitness trackers – the advancement of technology in the last few decades has been incredible. Each time a new high-tech item hits the market, everyone rushes out to get one, which explains why the vast majority of today’s athletically-minded people are donning sporty new fitness trackers.

FitBit Fitness TrackerWhile these wearable tech devices are awesome at raising their owner’s physical awareness by counting steps, burned calories, heart rate, duration of sleep and other nifty statistics related to our daily activities, there could also be a dark side to them; or at least, a dark side for those who already have a dark side.

There’s a massive ongoing debate as to whether fitness trackers may compromise an owner’s personal privacy. Because the technology is constantly tracking the wearer’s activity, in some cases even keep stock of longitude/latitude via GPS location, the question is being raised as to whether such information should be available to law enforcement and/or government officials, should the supposed need arise.

Just last month, Apple, maker of the iPhone and iPad, was heavily criticized by some – lauded by others – for refusing to cooperate with an FBI investigation regarding the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California. The company fought a government request to crack information on the accused’s smartphone. An open letter Apple sent to consumers infuriated many, but the company’s decision was supported by other major tech firms including Google, Facebook and Twitter.

The harsh reality is that fitness trackers like FitBit and Jawbone may not offer the privacy their owners think they will. Because they track a user’s movements and whereabouts from the time they wake up, until they go to sleep, and even during rest, any and all information stored on the device could potentially become the legal property of law enforcement agencies and US courts, upon request.

Fitness trackers have already been used in at least two court rooms, including a high-profile case last year involving a 43 year old woman from St. Petersburg, Florida, Jeannine Risley, who claimed to have been raped.

According to court documents, Ms. Risley traveled to Pennsylvania in March 2015 where she spent the night in the guest portion of her boss’s house. She called the police, claiming to have been raped by an unknown assailant who dragged her from the bed in the middle of the night, assaulting her at knifepoint.

Investigators were confused, because there were no footprints in the snow outside the home, and no evidence of an intruder could be found within aside from some overturned furniture and knife. A few other circumstances weren’t adding up either.

Then police downloaded and reviewed the data from her fitness tracker, only to verify their growing suspicions that she had lied about the whole thing. The tracker showed she hadn’t slept (as she claimed), and had been walking around all night prior to the alleged crime, ostensibly setting the scene for police. She was charged with false reports to law enforcement, false alarms to public safety and tampering with evidence.

Janet Johnson, a defense attorney in Texas, told NBC Click2Houston it’s a case of “liar beware… You better be telling the truth because this FitBit is going to blow your story,” she said.

Johnson explained that there are two main reasons why Apple has refused to “crack” the infamous terrorist cell phone. For one, they claim not to have the technology to do it. And for two, if they create that technology, it will only raise eyebrows from iPhone users who would prefer to know that their privacy is being protected.

“Tim Cook [CEO] from Apple has to look like he’s protecting his users so whether or not Apple thinks they’re going to win that battle, the corporations have an interest in telling their subscribers and users we’re going to fight to keep your information private,” said Johnson.

On the one hand, putting criminals behind bars is a good thing, as is uncovering illegitimate claims of criminal activity, as in the case of Ms. Risley. But the thought of Big Brother being able to track our every move doesn’t sit so well with most people, including those who have nothing to hide.

So for anyone who may be concerned that their daily activities could land them in hot water, or simply don’t want a personal activity log available for anyone download, Johnson offered this advice: “If you are worried about your privacy and you can do without knowing how many steps you’ve walked, you may want to forego the FitBit.”

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