Smart homes and various associated devices and technologies are becoming more commonplace all over the world. This process was far from the ideal of the “smart house,” touted during the early 90s, where a complete home would be assembled from the ground up, based on efficiency, technology and livability. Instead, we have something of a series of puzzle pieces that can be put together in many exciting ways, but often with difficult crossovers and communication challenges. A user may choose Amazon for their control centre, but smart lights are created by another business and the assistant at work is Apple designed. Meanwhile, in the car a Microsoft solution is provided that needs to communicate with the garage door opener which is controlled by Google.
The practical offshoot of this is that there are numerous devices in the home and office, collecting data – not for nefarious purposes – but to become more efficient, and learn more about how you and your family operate. After all, if your digital assistant can gain a clearer understanding as to what time you wake up and go to bed, then power can be adjusted along with lighting and heating at the appropriate times.
But where does this data go, and who has access to it? This is a question that has been largely voluntary up till now. Businesses produced documents that showed the types of data they were collecting, and the security protocols they built around them. What hasn’t been entirely transparent is which government agencies have access to that information, and at what point they can request it. This has become a more important question since smart technologies have been successfully used to catch criminals, with video evidence being produced in court for successful convictions.
It’s not a simple answer but is similar to the one that mobile phone companies had to deal with many years ago when federal police services started asking for access to encrypted telephone calls in order to catch criminals. In that case, the answer was usually to make things as simple as possible – if there was evidence of a crime taking place, then the telecommunications company would generally adhere to law enforcement.
But with smart homes, things become much more complicated. With a rise in global terrorism, more laws have been introduced that include the intention of an individual. If law enforcement suspects that an individual intends to commit a crime, does that mean they can gain access to internal cameras and security systems in order to keep an eye on them? If they don’t have smart devices, can the neighbour’s technology be used to spy on them? Both camps have good arguments – it’s good to stop crimes, but privacy is also important.
For the time being, we will continue enjoying the fruits of the technological revolution, but it won’t be long until this issue turns into a political football and a fully fledged global privacy issue, and one without a simple answer.