Data from the Apple Health app is being used as evidence in a trial concerning the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Germany. The individual accused of the crime is Hussein K., an Afghan refugee, who has been on trial since September.
The trial has been complicated by the fact that aspects of Hussein’s life are not clear, including his real age and a period of time — when the crime was committed — during which his whereabouts are unknown.
Hussein, who owns an iPhone, declined to give authorities his passcode when arrested. However, investigators hired a local company, which was able to gain access to the device. They then searched his Apple Health data, and were able to ascertain more details about his activities that day, such as the number of steps he took and the kind of activities he was engaged in.
Authorities are particularly interested in activity registered as “climbing stairs,” which correlate with the time during which Hussein may have been dragging his victim down a river embankment, and then climbing back up again after disposing of her body. Investigators replicated these movements, and found that the Health app recorded the information in the same way as was shown on his iPhone.
The right to your digital data
“I believe we will see more of this as time goes on,” Michael Kwet, a researcher at Yale Privacy Lab, told Motherboard. “Police forces are enthusiastic about intelligence-based policing. People fear crime, and police will claim they need to gather as much evidence as they can to solve criminal investigations, now that the data is recorded.”
While Apple wasn’t called on to help access Hussein’s iPhone, on this occasion in some ways the case is reminiscent of the 2016 battle between Apple and the FBI over whether it should help hack the iPhone belonging to a San Bernardino terrorist, in the search for digital evidence.
As Kwet points out, as our iPhones become a greater and greater part of our lives, and are capable of capturing more information than ever, criminal investigations are going to rely more than ever on this kind of data gathering.