Dealing with Amazons Alexa: No new police powers

Dealing with Amazons Alexa

Police do not need new powers to read smart appliances, Interior Ministers say. The police have long had these possibilities.

Amazon's Echo Dot

I'm listening, so I'm – Amazon Alexa Photo: imago images / ZUMA Press / La Nacion

KIEL taz | The interior ministers do not want new police powers for reading data from Amazon speech assistant Alexa. A decision to evaluate "digital traces" was made this Friday by the Conference of Interior Ministers (IMK) in Kiel.

More and more appliances such as TVs and refrigerators are connected to the Internet. Incidentally, their use produces data that is stored in the device or on central servers. Such data are also interesting for the police. For example, you can provide evidence of presence or absence at a crime scene. So, when communicating with devices like Alexa, it may be able to provide information about the location of certain people.

The state of Schleswig-Holstein found that the police must better adapt to the digitization of all areas of life. It must be able to "detect, secure and evaluate digital traces," it said in a draft resolution for the IMK. For this purpose, the police had to form "competence centers" of investigators and computer scientists, as demonstrated by Schleswig-Holstein at its state criminal investigation office. "Our intention was that the experts of the countries exchange better, how to use the new opportunities," said the Kiel Minister of the Interior Hans-Joachim Grote (CDU) on the sidelines of the IMK.

The more technical request became a big media wave a week ago. Some journalists believed that the police should be given new powers, as there is no legal basis for the evaluation of smart appliances for privacy reasons. Data protectors and opposition politicians are protesting against the alleged plans of the interior ministers.

Easier access to servers abroad

However, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) made it clear: "This is only about the application of existing legal bases." And so it is now in the decision of the IMK: "This is about data content that has already been collected on the basis of today's legal and get saved. This is not about the creation of new powers of intervention, such as reading data from so-called smart home devices. "

But legislative changes are not necessary at all. As far as the data are stored in the smart device itself, this can already be confiscated and evaluated by the police. This is similar to the already taking place seizing of smartphones that provide information about conversational contacts. Even if the data are located on central servers, they can be confiscated there, such as the emails in a cloud of Telekom.

Access is more difficult if the servers of the operators are located abroad. So far, a legal assistance request is required. In the future, however, the planned EU Regulation on electronic evidence (e-evidence-VO) should simplify access. The EU also wants to conclude an agreement with the US on access to electronic evidence.

Also for the secret access to smart Homegeräte there are already legal bases. If Alexa is manipulated to secretly monitor the apartment, it is a "big eavesdropping" that CDU / CSU and SPD introduced back in 1998. It can be used to prosecute criminals under criminal procedure. Most police laws allow the eavesdropping but also to ward off future dangers.

"We do not monitor children's rooms, we do not monitor journalists," emphasized Minister of the Interior Seehofer, "we only fight terrorists, extremists and criminals."


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