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Crime Technology Hardware

Police Use Pacemaker Data To Charge Homeowner With Arson, Insurance Fraud (networkworld.com) 216

JustAnotherOldGuy writes from a report via Network World: If you're dependent upon an embedded medical device, the device that helps keep you alive may also be used to incriminate you in a crime. Ross Compton, a 59-year-old homeowner in Ohio called 911 in September 2016 to say that his house was on fire, however there were many irregularities to the blaze that investigators found suspicious, such as contradictory statements from Compton and the way that the fire had started. In the ensuing investigation, the police secured a warrant for the logs from his pacemaker, specifically, "Compton's heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire." They subsequently filed charges of felony aggravated arson and insurance fraud. Middletown Police said this was the first time it had used data from a heart device to make an arrest, but the pacemaker data proved to be an "excellent investigative tool"; the data from the pacemaker didn't correspond with Compton's version of what happened. The retrieved data was used to help indict Compton. Lt. Jimmy Cunningham stated, "It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him."
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Police Use Pacemaker Data To Charge Homeowner With Arson, Insurance Fraud

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  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @07:52PM (#53785413)
    in court. Not if he had the money to fight it. But with our justice system they'll get a conviction out of him. Well, a plea bargain. Hell, guy's house just burned down. One way or the other he's not gonna have the money to pay legal bills.
    • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @07:55PM (#53785435) Journal
      Why not? All kinds of pseudo-science and bogus evidence has been accepted in the past. Arson and bite mark "evidence" are clear examples of this.
      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:58PM (#53785717)

        Why not? All kinds of pseudo-science and bogus evidence has been accepted in the past. Arson and bite mark "evidence" are clear examples of this.

        A good example of this was Cameron Todd Willingham [wikipedia.org]. He was executed in Texas for murder and arson based on flimsy pseudo-science evidence. Based on what we have subsequently learned about how fires start and spread, many arson experts now believe he was almost certainly innocent. Oops.

        • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @03:33AM (#53786777)

          He was executed in Texas for murder and arson based (...) many arson experts now believe he was almost certainly innocent. Oops.

          Another strong argument against the death penalty.

          • by vakuona ( 788200 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @08:26AM (#53787465)

            He was executed in Texas for murder and arson based (...) many arson experts now believe he was almost certainly innocent. Oops.

            Another strong argument against the death penalty.

            Also another argument against leaving decisions on technical matters to prosecutors. There were many chances to save that guy's life, and none were taken. There was testimony in good time that showed that there was no evidence that he had deliberately caused the fire, but it wasn't listened to.

            In any case, if a person is being found guilty of such a crime, I believe the jury needs to say what evidence was key in convicting. In this case, the key bit was that the fire had been started deliberately and, more specifically, that an accelerant had been used. If that testimony had been invalidated (which it later was), then basically the glove didn't fit, and the man should have been acquitted. This would have given the man an opportunity to put his effort into disproving the one key bit of evidence that was nailing him.

          • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday February 02, 2017 @11:04AM (#53788393) Homepage Journal

            If it's an argument at all, it's one against all forms of criminal sentencing of any kind whatsoever, not just the death penalty.

            I still can't believe some people think the sentences are what's wrong, instead of the inaccurate verdicts. It's as though people think that figuratively taking an innocent person's life by putting them in prison for decades (or life) isn't an irreparable injustice on par with murder.

            I have to call total and complete bullshit on that. How about I imprison you for years, perhaps also as my rape-slave among other violations of your dignity and a total denial of the entire life you wanted to live, and let's see if you don't, at some point, say "I wish he'd just kill me."

            Get the trial right!! That is where efforts are most needed.

            • I still can't believe some people think the sentences are what's wrong, instead of the inaccurate verdicts. It's as though people think that figuratively taking an innocent person's life by putting them in prison for decades (or life) isn't an irreparable injustice on par with murder.

              You are absolutely right. However, in an adversarial justice system administered and staffed by flawed human beings, mistakes WILL happen, even when there is no malice present, and even if we manage to improve the system. Given that, dispensing with the death penalty at least allows for the possibility of saving something valuable from the process. So yes, we need to improve the system under which verdicts occur, but we also need to abolish the death penalty. And we also need to radically reform the prison

            • I still can't believe some people think the sentences are what's wrong, instead of the inaccurate verdicts.

              Because the death penalty is fixable, while perfect verdicts are a fantasy. Capital punishment has been eliminated by most countries, including Russia, Myanmar, etc. Here is a map [wikipedia.org] of countries that still have capital punishment. Is this really a club we want to belong to?

              taking an innocent person's life by putting them in prison for decades

              In this case, it would not have been "decades". He would have been released within a few years, and certainly after Rick Perry's presidential campaign collapsed. Perry, then governor of Texas, was under a lot of pressure to "look tough

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Of course not. If he chose to fight it, they would load him up with other charges. A jury would find him guilty of something. The process is the punishment.

      Hollywood would like you to think an innocent person could fight against this. They are wrong. You go to court, you're screwed whether you win or lose.

    • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:11PM (#53785505)

      You should have read the article rather than the click-bait headline.

      They found gasoline on his clothing, the fire starting in multiple places in his house and the guy claimed to have packed up suitcases of his belongings and tossed them out of the house during the fire (while somehow not having time to bother rescuing his cat). The pacemaker data was not the primary evidence used to indict him.

      • That may be the case, but IMO this shouldn't be admissible in court. In my opinion, it should be legally treated the same as one's own testimony, and law enforcement can't compel you to turn over any information contained in it. I think a similar doctrine should apply to any kind of "truth serum" drugs or any possible future technology that could directly read thoughts or memories from your brain.

        The only exception should be if you're dead and a post-mortem investigation is needed.

        • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @09:11PM (#53785777)

          Your argument wouldn't work because the heart rate data had already been sent to a third party. Since the information was already given to a third party and the third party is the subject of the warrant, it's no longer a case of the defendant being compelled to do anything.

          The best argument against the use of the heart monitor data would actually be the HIPAA privacy rule.

          • by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @09:59PM (#53785947) Homepage Journal
            It wasn't transmitted to a third party. It was held by the pacemaker. It was literally still inside his body. He wasn't under remote monitoring.

            I agree that this should qualify for a HIPAA exemption. The information was collected solely to influence his medical treatment. As a doctor, I'm very ambivalent about HIPAA, but this is pretty clearly the sort of thing it's meant to prevent. Bad cases make bad law, of course, but they should be able to make a good case against him with the other evidence. If you're relying on pacemaker data, well... they're not that reliable.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              HIPPA Explicitly allows for medical information to be released in compliance with a court ordered warrant.

              45 CFR 164.512(f)(1)(ii)(A)-(B)

              I think it's not at all clear that HIPPA was intended to prevent this kind of data collection, it seems pretty clear that it was intended to ALLOW for it.

          • by mysidia ( 191772 )

            because the heart rate data had already been sent to a third party.

            Not just any random 3rd party, a confidential patient-doctor exchange to a physician
            for purpose of medical treatment. Not for the purpose of retaining and sharing
            or using for business or other purposes as they like.
            Confidential privileged and sensitive private communications with a doctor.
            It's similar to sharing information with your lawyer for advise; there should bebody court holding an opinion that they
            are justified in prying.....

          • Let's assume you're right - if it was, that's medical records data, which is already privileged information. If the law doesn't recognize pacemaker records as privileged, then the law needs to be updated to account for technological changes.

            It doesn't stop being medical information because it's stored (or sent by) a medical device as opposed to being told to a doctor.

        • That may be the case, but IMO this shouldn't be admissible in court. In my opinion, it should be legally treated the same as one's own testimony, and law enforcement can't compel you to turn over any information contained in it.

          It was treated no differently than any other records a person keeps. If you leave a trail, whether it is paper or electronic, it can be obtained with a warrant and used as evidence.

        • That's a huge stretch of the constitution. Which has, "nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself". He was not compelled to witness against himself. He does have to respond to lawful warrants for search though, but is not required to speak or provide any information. Ie, they can take fingerprints and this has never been considered to be self incrimination. Likewise they can get a warrant for the pacemaker logs, or phone records, or a lock of hair, a breath sample, etc.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        while somehow not having time to bother rescuing his cat

        Wait, What... He killed a cat?

        Give him the chair!

        Seriously, why is not animal cruelty in the list of charges with the arson?

        • Have you ever stood there holding the door open in freezing weather while the cat sticks its head out for HOURS deciding whether to go all the way out or not???

          Cruelty, my ASS!

    • @rsilvergun

      It's safe to say that your post is based on gratuitous speculation.

      Reading the linked articles it appears that the man had done things, notably moving heavy objects and exiting the house through his bedroom window, alledgedly between the start of the fire and him leaving the building, that were inconsistent with a cardiologist's estimate, on examination of the pacemaker data, of his body's maximum power output around that time. That's a pretty solid piece of evidence.

      The obvious conclusions

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        That's a pretty solid piece of evidence.

        I'm reluctant to decry the science behind that evidence, but I'm much more reluctant to allow prosecution on the grounds, "You should have had a heart attack and you didn't"

        If the other evidence is adequate to demonstrate illegal activity then prosecute. Pacemaker records should not be required or relevant.

        • I'm reluctant to decry the science behind that evidence, but I'm much more reluctant to allow prosecution on the grounds, "You should have had a heart attack and you didn't"

          A pacemaker is unlikely to cause a heart attack unless it is malfunction (out of sync). If, in this case, the pacemaker was functioning correctly during the event, then the ground you mentioned would be rejected quickly...

        • by Megol ( 3135005 )

          I really don't understand why you are making things up instead of accepting the story. A pacemaker monitors heart activity in order to maintain pacing when the normal heart control system doesn't function as it should. That means that a modern pacemaker that have the ability to store that activity in a log for medical uses also gives _supporting_ evidence of activity surrounding the time of the fire. It is very simple.

          BTW a pacemaker makes no difference if one have a heart attack.

          • by Cederic ( 9623 )

            I really don't understand why you are making things up instead of accepting the story.

            A combination of laziness, comedic effect and making a point without needing elaborate detail.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @07:53PM (#53785421)

    I have no intentions at all of burning anything down or committing any violent acts, but this is still a scary development.

    You can avoid a lot of the "spew all minutia of your life to the cloud!" insanity that's taken over the world, but if you need a pacemaker, well, you need a pacemaker. It's nothing something you can easily opt out of, well except for the usual "exercise eat right try to stay healthy" bit, but eventually, age catches up with everybody.

    Sometimes you can opt out of other people's stupidity. With medical care, not so much. Ditto when it comes to the security of your medical records, where de-anonymization of them [mic.com] is a massive industry now.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @07:55PM (#53785431) Homepage Journal

    Is the pacemaker part of him? Is offloading the data testifying?

    In any case, I'm voting guilty. He looks like a shifty bastard.

    • Re:Fifth amendment (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:57PM (#53785709)

      The problem is these things are always tested on "shifty bastards". As soon as precedent is available, they get extended to ordinary people.

      • Re:Fifth amendment (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @10:30PM (#53786053)

        The problem is these things are always tested on "shifty bastards". As soon as precedent is available, they get extended to ordinary people.

        "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all." -- H. L. Mencklen

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      If you have to cut him open to get to it and he needs it to stay alive, I think there's a good case for it being part of him.

    • Doesn't matter if it's a part of him. A lawful warrant can get a tissue swab for DNA, or a snip of hair, etc.

    • The pacemaker is part of him as much as my finger is part of me. Pacemaker logs are like a fingerprint, they both record an event that came from a person.

  • Who would've thought the government would use available, recorded information against you?

    If at first you don't succeed never try again. [wordpress.com]

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:01PM (#53785469) Homepage Journal

    the police secured a warrant for the logs from his pacemaker

    It seems like the warrant was issued upon probable cause and ...

    specifically, "Compton's heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire."

    ... the place to be searched and the things to be seized properly described.

    In full compliance with the Bill of Rights, in other words. Are we supposed to be outraged anyway?

    • It's not the 4th amendment that is important here. Instead, it's the 5th. What is an implanted medical device? What if you have an artificial heart? Does a device ever become part of a person?
      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Does a device ever become part of a person?

        Do fingerprints?

        • Fingerprints reveal something about who you are, not what you know.

          Imagine, in the future, a technology is developed that allows someone's brain to be scanned and memories read from the brain. Would a 4th amendment search of the memories in someone's brain be OK?

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            Would a 4th amendment search of the memories in someone's brain be OK?

            Yes, absolutely — as long as it can be done without undue damage to the person. The memories you have in your head are no different from those you recorded into a diary.

            • So, basically, in your opinion, the 5th amendment is meaningless?
              • by mi ( 197448 )

                So, basically, in your opinion, the 5th amendment is meaningless?

                No, it is not. Before you ask, the multiplication table and the Pythagorean theorem remain meaningful too — and just as relevant to the topic at hand.

                • So please explain, if the hypothetical device existed, what protection from self-incrimination anyone would have.
                  • by mi ( 197448 )

                    So please explain, if the hypothetical device existed, what protection from self-incrimination anyone would have.

                    Why, obviously, you still can not be compelled to testify against yourself. Your objections smack of equivocation — you declare this and that to be "tantamount" to a testimony and protest..

                    That police may be able, due to advances in technology, to obtain evidence through means other than testimony does not change this. You attempted to dismiss my example of fingerprints before, but the dis

                    • It's clear that I am not going to convince you, so all I can say it this:

                      Good luck living in your police state.

    • In full compliance with the Bill of Rights, in other words. Are we supposed to be outraged anyway?

      I think the real issue here is privacy. Why does his pacemaker report/record anything that isn't an emergency or suspect of one?

      • Why does his pacemaker report/record anything that isn't an emergency or suspect of one?

        So that his cardiologist can monitor his condition and pacemaker response to ensure it is working properly and providing the services necessary to keep him alive and well. Its the same reason a diabetic monitors his blood sugar levels. (When on a fixed medication plan, you don't monitor to decide how much insulin to use, you monitor to know if the fixed levels are right. A blood test gives you current sugar levels and an average level (through A1C), but won't tell if you are spiking extremely high or droppi

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @09:11PM (#53785771) Homepage

      In full compliance with the Bill of Rights, in other words. Are we supposed to be outraged anyway?

      Probably not, according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

      In the United States, the Federal Rules of Evidence do not recognize doctor-patient privilege. At the state level, the extent of the privilege varies depending on the law of the applicable jurisdiction.

      If you can't claim privilege on the doctor, you probably can't claim it on medical equipment either. Here in Norway it's the other way around, we've found that the need for everyone to be able to seek medical aid is greater than the need for healthcare personnel to aid in criminal investigations, except when there's a clear threat of harm or to identify those involved in accidents and disasters. That is to say the police can certainly request drug tests, DNA tests, blood alcohol checks and such but they can't ask healthcare personnel to repeat what you told them. Not even with a court order.

      Following that principle, I think the pacemaker data would be considered privileged here or at least it should, that is you're not going to be forced to choose between having a pacemaker and giving the police a tool with which to convict you. It's not something that should be granted lightly but I think attorney-client, clergy and a few others should. I'd certainly rank doctor-patient more worthy than spousal privilege, which is actually protected by US law. It's a bit odd when they can compel the rest of your family, blood is thicker than water but not in this case.

      • Well, the testimonial privilege on statements you give you your spouse, doctor, priest, etc. is about protecting them from having to testify about private information given in confidence, where to break that confidence would breach a trust between two people with an obligation.

        This is about a device that produces data no matter what, and there is no presumption of privacy or confidentiality. Very different.
        • This is about a device that produces data no matter what, and there is no presumption of privacy or confidentiality. Very different.

          My wife talks to me no matter what. Does that void any presumption of privacy that she has?

          The issue is that there should be a presumption of privacy relating to this data. Good policy dictates this.

          • My wife talks to me no matter what. Does that void any presumption of privacy that she has?

            Is your wife committing a federal crime or a state crime in one of the minority of states where spousal privilege lies with the witness spouse? Are you currently legally married and not going through divorce proceedings? Were you legally married at the time she talked to you about a crime? Is the crime against you?

        • by Imrik ( 148191 )

          If it were my pacemaker, I would assume privacy and confidentiality. Well, I would have yesterday anyway.

      • Spousal privilege seems like a very silly thing now that we've thrown out ~2000 years of tradition and jurisprudence on the matter. Up until very recently, marriage was understood to merge the husband and wife into a single person. Spousal privilege is simply the right against self incrimination for a (legal) person with two bodies.

        Personally, I find the use of data collected by an implanted medical device for prosecution to be abhorrent, and I will be letting my state and federal representatives know how

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        This. Apparently US citizens have a choice now, death or install a government spy device.

    • I'm outraged because medical data should be privileged - just like legal advice and the discussion between married couples. Both* of those - and statements to a doctor - are beyond the reach of a warrant.

      Beyond it simply being privileged because it is medical data, I think data without the ability to opt out is scary, and needs to be protectable - because the default state of "don't create the data" doesn't exist.

      * Note sure about married couples in all states.

    • N outrage as long as you remember this key part in the case.

      Fire investigators knew there had been “multiple points of origin of the fire from the outside of the residence.” At the time, the police cited inconsistencies in Compton’s statements when compared with the evidence from the fire.

      That makes it a lot better.

  • than see anyone's own biometrics used against them this way. This is fucking vile. I hope it goes to the supreme court - not that it will make any difference soon.

  • David Crawford (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Motherfucking Shit ( 636021 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:08PM (#53785501) Journal

    This reminds me of the murder of David Crawford [smh.com.au] in Australia. The killer had an alibi matching what police initially thought was the time of death. By analyzing data from Crawford's pacemaker, they were able to pinpoint the exact moment he died, which busted the killer's alibi.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      That is different and essentially data from an autopsy. It makes sense to get that and privacy does not really apply anymore.

  • The evidence of the pacemaker is only evidence of it's activity and nothing more. There is not evidence correlating changes in activity to anything else. What else can cause changes, intoxicant consumption, sexual activity (whether shared or individual sexual stimulation), general exposure to media content (movies, TV series, music).

    Basically they twisted the evidence in such a way, that the defendant must now prove innocence. There are many activities that would generate those response, their claim that

    • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:20PM (#53785543)

      They haven't convicted him based on just the pacemaker evidence. The pacemaker evidence was used to build an argument that his alibi was bullshit.

      Yes other activities could have created the same pacemaker output. But he didn't claim to be doing any of those. He claimed 1 thing, the massive pile of evidence, including but not limited to the pacemaker logs, said otherwise.

    • by kogut ( 1133781 ) on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:21PM (#53785549)

      It's the prosecution's job to assert guilt. I'm not sure why you think it's odd that they'd do so.

      It's the court's job to decide whether the evidence produced meets the standard of guilt.

      • by jopsen ( 885607 )

        It's the prosecution's job to assert guilt. I'm not sure why you think it's odd that they'd do so.

        In most countries the prosecution has a duty to the truth that far outweighs all other concerns.

        On topic, this is no different than using data from a step counter, fitbit, or an exercise measuring phone app...
        It's an indicator of activity, it can't really be used for much in terms of proving guilt...

        Even if they guy made a statement saying it was sleeping before the fire broke out, then perhaps he just made a false statement because he was doing something else...

        Hopefully, this is all click bait, pro

      • It's the court's job to decide if the data is admissible as evidence, but that's just splitting hairs.

        I get what you mean, and I agree.

        Currently, data-based evidence is acceptable by way of cell phone tower pings; browsing history, smartphone/computer data stores, so why not a smart heart?

        That's to be determined, but I think the accept/reject will be based on parameters like accuracy and reliability of the device -- not the form factor.

      • I'd extend this to be more specific: the prosecution's real job is to WIN the case. By this I mean that they will block as much evidence as possible from the defense, because it helps them win. They will do whatever they can to stack the jury in their favor (not to get a truly balanced jury). It's not about proving guilt or, God forbid, finding the truth.
    • by PRMan ( 959735 )
      If there really was a fire while he was calling, there would be telltale signs of smoke inhalation, which apparently weren't there.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @08:36PM (#53785635)
    In an ironic twist of fate, the perpetrator committed the arson in an attempt to collect money to pay his medical bills.
    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Once he's in prison, the state will pay his medical bills. Is that irony or has it reached the level of farce?

      • I am not so sure that the state is all that great at paying for medical treatments.

        I had a friend who did some jail time for poor choices. He had leukemia which he didn't get treatment for while in jail. Shortly after he was released he died in the hospital from complications. It is quite possible he could have lived had he gotten treatment while in jail.

  • . . . before the fire started, I was squeezin' off a muscle missile. You know, like in the Jackson Browne song 'Rosie'.
  • don't get confused (Score:5, Informative)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@DEBIANhotmail.com minus distro> on Wednesday February 01, 2017 @09:31PM (#53785849)
    The 5th amendment protection against self-incrimination is, to the actual letter of the law, that someone "shall not be compelled to be a witness against himself". Which the intent was that no person shall be forced to give testimony or make forced confessions or possibly have their words manipulated to be used against him/her. Testimony is the act of the person saying or asserting things.

    A lot of people confuse this with things that they operate or own to be used as evidence against them. The protection against self-incrimination does not mean that no evidence can be produced to be used against you. And the data from your pacemaker hardly qualifies as you being forced to testify.
    • You don't have protection from self-incrimination. You have protection from being compelled to incriminate yourself. The reason that right exists is to protect you from being tortured or otherwise coerced into confessing. With that in mind, it's clear that reading your pacemaker logs doesn't fit under that condition.

    • The big difference is that things you own and operate are not part of one's body. The pacemaker is.

  • Wow, I got to hand it to the investigators. Thinking outside the box. I'm being serious.

  • GNU Pacemaker, where you have the right to SSH in and turn off logging. Coming to a broken heart near you.

  • Let's say a criminal is bound to a wheelchair and need a wheelchair attendant to push him around. He sneaks on a victim, while being pushed by an attendant, and shoots the victim multiple times. Does the police have no right to question his attendant? How is the pacemaker log different? "because it is a medical necessity" applies to both cases. "because on a computer" is not a valid argument, and you know it.
  • Nobody should be convicted or released until the experts on Slashdot have been consulted.

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