Smart doorbells and Alexa are among digital devices being increasingly used in criminal cases, says the head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), said such devices were actively providing key evidence to “pinpoint whereabouts, provide footage of an incident or a timeline.”
Addressing the Westminster policy forum yesterday (Mon), he cited the case of police in America investigating the death of a woman impaled by a spear-tipped bed post during a struggle with her boyfriend had obtained audio from two Amazon Echo devices.
In London 1,000 video doorbells activated by movement are being installed in four boroughs to help catch burglars in a deal with the supplier Ring which has similar arrangements with forces across the US.
“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. This has been transformed by the way we now live our lives and share information online,” he said.
He cited the case of sports therapist Terry Whall who was convicted of the crossbow killing of Gerald Corrigan after police analysed the GPS of a Land Rover Discovery he had used to drive to the scene of the murder.
It showed not only how Whall had carried out reconaissance at Mr Corrigan’s home but travelled to the crime scene the following night and remained until 12 minutes after the victim was shot.
The GPS system indicated the boot was opened and closed when the car arrived and before it left, for Whall to get the crossbow. Whall was jailed for life.
Mr Hill warned that just as technology offered new investigative capabilities, it also presented “unprecedented evidential challenges” because of the amount of data it could generate.
This has led to controversies over the alleged “digital strip searching” of rape victims who have been required to hand over their mobile phones.
Mr Hill said machine learning and artificial intelligence was being developed to be more effective and reliable in sifting through vast amounts of data.
"Prosecuting crime in 2020 means integrating new and old techniques to make sure digitally-driven investigations are translated into fair and effective cases. This is a fast moving landscape and we will not and must not stand still,” he said.
The CPS is investing in technology to help it review and search datasets to enable a prosecutor to more easily establish which elements of the evidence are most relevant.