Germany planning to access voice assistant data to tackle crime

Germany plans to allow police to access voice data held by gadgets such as Amazon’s Alexa or smart fridges

  • Authorities consider allowing legal access to data from voice assistants
  • Data from smart gadgets could soon be used as evidence in the German courts
  • Proposal suggests smart gadget data is crucial in fight on crime and terror

Voice assistants, smart televisions, refrigerators and other ‘smart’ gadgets could soon play a crucial role in criminal investigations in Germany. 

German authorities are working on guidelines to allow them access to data held by digital devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa, to help fight crime, a spokesman for the interior ministry said on Wednesday.

Voice assistants carry out simple spoken commands given by their users and in the process record large amounts of information about their habits and behaviour.

If the new guidelines are passed it could see data collected from the range of devices used as evidence in the German courts.  

Voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa [pictured above] are becoming increasingly popular across the world. As users give simple spoken commands the devices record large amounts of information that could soon be used in the German courts

‘To tackle crime effectively it is very important for federal and regional authorities to have access to the data captured by these devices,’ the ministry spokesman told a regular government news conference, adding that a meeting of regional interior ministers would discuss concrete proposals next week.   

The spread of devices that promise convenience to users but which effectively place networked microphones and cameras in intimate domestic settings has sparked widespread concerns around the world about the privacy implications.

In Germany, where memories of the surveillance by the Nazis and later by communist East Germany’s secret police, have decisively shaped social attitudes toward privacy, resistance to state encroachment on private life is very strong.

But a spokesman for the ministry with responsibility for consumer protection said it was the responsibility of users to decide how far they wanted to allow such devices into their homes.

‘The data can be used for all kinds of purposes, including being seized by prosecution authorities,’ he said. ‘This is something to be considered by everyone who uses voice assistants in their most private surroundings.’

German media reported that if the proposals were passed such data could only be legally accessed and used by authorities under a court order.  

Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND), a group of German newspapers, said the proposal document had highlighted how data saved on digital home devices could be ‘increasingly important’ for investigating capital crimes and preventing terrorist threats. 

A document outlining the new proposal, that could see German authorities access voice assistant data, suggested the move could be ‘increasingly important’ in investigating crime and preventing terrorist threats (Stock photo)

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