A picture of the Fitbit range of trackers


Yet another instance has emerged where the data recorded by a fitness tracker has been used as evidence. In this case though it was used to overturn the victims claim and charges were pressed against her.

A 42-year-old woman alleged that a man had entered the home she was staying in during the night and raped her according to the report in LancasterOnline. Initially she claimed she had lost her Fitbit in the assault but it was later found by police lying on the floor. The data was retrieved from the Fitbit with and the lady volunteered to give over her login details. In this respect we can’t throw any blame at Fitbit in regards to her data being given to police without consent as she handed it to them. I wonder if perhaps she wondered if it would help back up her case that she was at home the time of the assault? Indeed it did do this but also gave officers much more data she may have not bargained for.

When she called the police she claimed she was asleep and awoke to find a man in his 30’s pinning her down on her bed. Her Fitbit data however showed that she had been awake and walking around her apartment all night. Along with other suspect evidence like no footprints in the snow outside or on the hardwood floor inside the police have turned the case on its head. She is now facing trial on three count of misdemeanor for wasting police time and resources for the manhunt that was triggered by her call. She faces trial later this year having past on the chance of a preliminary hearing.

It’s perhaps not surprising to see that this isn’t first time Fitbit data has been brought into court cases. A woman in Calgary is using her data in court to try and prove she has been more immobile for 4 years since her accident. The report in Forbes points out that this case and perhaps this latest one could open the flood gates to the data being used by either prosecution or defense. In some cases they might approach the tech companies storing the data directly requesting it to be released. This is one case where those using the Apple Watch might take some comfort that their data is encrypted and can’t be read by Apple. The only way here would be trying to force the victim / perpetrator to give up their login details.

If it is to be used in court then there are several issues with current data trackers that need to be considered.

Data accuracy

Not only will people be on trial when these devices get brought into court cases but the accuracy of the data they generate. Its acknowledged widely that the current generations are not flawless in recording incorrect data. Here are just a few from personal experience

  • G Watch added 68 steps at the start of my day every day despite it being sat on my bedside table
  • Fitbit failed to record me being awake and walking about my house for several minutes during the night on several occasions
  • My wife complaining to her Apple Watch that she has been stood up for the last 2 hours when her standing reminder goes off
  • Differences in recorded length of run between my mobile, my friends mobile and my TomTom Multisports watch when out on runs

No doubt you can think of some from your own life or of people you know too. In the case of the lady claiming reduced mobility, what if her Fitbit was only accurately recording 80% of her movement? This will make her look more impaired than she truly is.

Data ownership

If data is to be used in court then we must be able to establish without any doubt that the recorded data comes from the person in question. With the Fitbit and many others this is impossible. There is nothing at all to stop someone giving it to a friend and getting them to walk around with it all day. What if to fake disability you leave your Fitbit on the desk whilst you go the shops and put it back on when you return?

The only way I think we can reliably trust this data is if it’s tied with biometrics from that person. This might be heart rate and rhythm, finger print ID or some as yet unavailable technology. If that person’s heart rate and rhythm is being recorded we can establish they have it on their wrist. Although as this video shows in its current form even this can be bypassed with the current version of the Apple Watch although it is supposed to be addressed in upcoming security updates.

These cases will likely be a testing ground for future cases and if the data is deemed admissible in court we will be hearing a lot more stories like these.

How do you feel about this? Do you think we can use fitness trackers and wearables in court? Feel free to leave a comment below or in the Google Plus Community or Twitter!