Data does not exist in a vacuum. There are some very lucrative careers based on the extraction of multiple, divergent uses of a single data set. It follows that the fitness tracker that collects and analyzes data to encourage healthy habits may serve you well after your death. Attorneys and litigants must be cognizant of the new horizon data presents. Criminal, personal injury and maybe, inheritance law may soon rely on data in some surprising new ways.
Dead people do tell tales. Thanks in part to data on the victim’s fitness tracker, Connecticut State police recently arrested Richard Debate for the 2015 murder of his wife, Connie. The investigators used data to contradict Richard’s various versions of the crime.
The story the accused tells: Richard claims he was home alone when an armed intruder entered the house demanding cash. When Connie walked into the house after her spin class, the intruder immediately shot her to death. The intruder tied Richard to a chair. After the intruder left the house, Richard freed one of his hands and immediately triggered the home security panic alarm to summon the police.
The story the decedent tells: Connie’s fitness tracker data indicates that Connie, or someone wearing her tracker, took 1,200 steps in the house, over the period of one hour after Richard said Connie was dead. Six minutes after the tracker collected the final steps, Richard triggered the panic alarm of the home security system.
The story the dogs tell: K9 dogs found no evidence of an intruder or anyone other than Richard and Connie in the house during the murder. The dogs, well, doggedly, followed Richard when tasked with finding the scent of the alleged intruder.
The story the accused accidentally tells: Richard’s computer, cell phone and social media data revealed an affair and a pregnant girlfriend.
Police obtained an arrest warrant and charged Richard with Connie’s murder, filing false reports and tampering with evidence. Fitness trackers can inform on the wearer’s health, mood, location and ability to focus. Trackers surveille more accurately than a combination of video, audio and a retired junior high teacher.
Fitness trackers are the equivalent of a plane’s black box. Fitness trackers are essentially lie detectors rigged with a time and location stamp. Depending on the sophistication of your tracker, it measures blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity—the same things measured during a polygraph test. As premised above, the data that can assist the wearer to track physical activity has multiple uses, some life-saving, some life-affirming.
- Analysis of the wearer’s vital signs saved a wearer’s life—doctors treated undiagnosed blood clots in the wearer’s lungs after the wearer noticed her excessively high resting heart rate.
- Red lines show the GPS movements of Seattle gladiator, Kelly Herron, as she battled for her life during an attack in park restroom. Kelly’s intensity and relentless self-defense is obvious in the movements her tracker collected. Her account of the savage attack and fight corresponds with her fitness tracker data.
Fitness trackers are emerging as a source of evidence in civil disputes. The plaintiff, a former personal trainer, seeks to prove her diminished physical capacity after her injury through fitness tracker data showing she is not as active as the average woman of her age. What next? Might inheritance laws and wrongful death suits soon hinge on fitness tracker data? Roll back time to the summer of 1991.
On July 16, 1999, the nation gasped and mourned the death of the son of Camelot.
John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, died when the plane Kennedy piloted crashed. The National Transportation Safety Board determined pilot error was the cause of the crash. When someone, especially someone wealthy, may be liable for an accidental death, a wrongful death lawsuit can be expected. However, when spouses die simultaneously (actually, within 120 hours of each other in Washington) without children or a document such as a trust that explicitly directs the allocation of their estates after their simultaneous deaths, the inheritance would pass according to state law. Many state simultaneous death statutes require that each spouse is considered to have predeceased the other. This means that the next closest living relatives of the decedents divide the estates equally, according to the degree of kinship. While laws have remained largely dormant, technology may force the legal field to evolve at a faster pace.
Fitness tracker data may have altered the division of the estates of the John, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.
Fast forward to 2017. John, Jr. and Carolyn are wearing a fitness trackers when the plane crashes and data indicates one spouse died before the other. Might the estates be disbursed differently now? Would the heirs of the later expiring spouse have basis to allege a wrongful death claim? Apply this hypothetical to other areas of law:
- If you rear end a car will your fitness tracker data be used to show you are chronically sleep deprived?
- If your tracker shows your heart rates increases when you are near your suspected lover, can that evidence be introduced in a divorce?
At first this may seem far-fetched, but consider that police are asking Amazon to release recordings from an Alexa in a murder investigation. This is truly an exercise in innovativeness. Data in itself is neither good nor evil, helpful or harmful. Make sure you know what data is [i]being collected, and how it is being used. Ponder this as you achieve your daily step goal.