The extent to which smart devices can become involved with law enforcement agencies has been in the news quite a bit lately.

First there was the case where Amazon eventually agreed to hand over information gathered from an Echo speaker that was relevant to a murder case in the US. The company had at first refused to hand over the info, but its resolve was not tested as the defendant gave authorities permission to access the data.

However in this case, and this is where it all gets a bit ‘Minority Report’, Google Home might have prevented a crime before it happened.

In a report from to ABC News, police officers were called to a home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a Google Home called the authorities and officers were able to hear a confrontation taking place.

The police report that one Eduardo Barros was house-sitting at the home with his girlfriend and their daughter.

It is alleged that Eduardo had pulled a gun on his girlfriend after an argument, and asked her: “Did you call the sheriffs?” Google Home apparently heard “call the sheriffs,” and proceeded to do just that.

A full SWAT team arrived at the home and a lengthy siege ensued, but after a few hours officers were able to able to take the suspect into custody without further serious incident, although the women involved did sustained minor injuries that did not require her to attend a hospital.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III said in a statement: “The unexpected use of this new technology to contact emergency services has possibly helped save a life.”

Eduardo did get charged with possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon, aggravated battery against a household member, aggravated assault against a household member and false imprisonment, but the timely arrival of the police was considered highly significant in this case.

A case like this raises many questions. Could home automation systems be used to prevent crime? Using key phrases to trigger a response? Would that be legal? Or even wanted?

In the UK in particular there has been much talk of the need to protect the wider public partly by monitoring online and electronic information and the impact that it has on peoples’ freedoms and rights.

One thing is for sure, the potential for technology to muddy the waters between crime prevention and personal freedom/privacy is only going to increase.

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