There is a rule of thumb in the data security realm that advises against hooking anything up to the internet that doesn’t need to be, the idea being that internet connectivity is a door through which most every hacker finds their way in. In fact, a group of researchers discovered a way that even Google’s Nest smart home thermostats could be hacked, two years ago.
As it turns out, hackers aren’t the only ones you should be worried about when it comes to smart home device security — cops are coming for your data, too. According to Nest’s own transparency report, law enforcement has requested data at least 300 times over the past three years. And as Nest has grown from thermostats to surveillance cameras, the amount of data potentially available to cops has expanded exponentially.
Google’s Nest products now include everything from security cameras and motion sensors to alarms, cloud services, and even facial recognition technology, all compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. According to Nest’s report, the number of data requests has been increasing, from around 50 in 2015 to about 130 in 2017. The company claims, however, that it does not simply hand over your personal information and data to law enforcement:
When we get a request for user information, we review it carefully and only provide information within the scope and authority of the request … For example, if a US government agency presented us with a search warrant to investigate a crime they think was captured on a Nest Cam, we wouldn’t just hand over user data. We’d analyze the request to be sure the warrant wasn’t overly broad, then we’d make sure the information they requested was within the scope of the warrant.
Still, Nest admits to handing over some data in response to about 30 percent of the requests it received.
From Home to Cops to Court
In one case, allegedly the first confirmed demand in the United States from a federal law enforcement agency, the Postal Service got a warrant asking Google to hand over all the data related to those cameras at a residence linked to massive credit fraud. Forbes reported that the company complied with the warrant, “shipping surveillance footage back, along with personal details of its owners.”
Nest declines to provide more specific details, but it’s clear that the company has received an enormous amount of data requests, and that it has complied, to some degree, with some of those requests. So, the questions that remain are: How smart do you want your home to be? And, does that thing really need to be connected to the internet?
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