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Data from Apple Health, an app automatically included on iOS devices since the launch of iOS 8, has been used as evidence in a recent German murder trial.
In a fascinating use of phone-tracked activity data, police were able to look at the suspect’s movements on the day in question, recreate what they believed to have happened, and confirmed that their suspicions matched the data presented in the health-tracking app.
The details of the case itself are more grisly. A German refugee, Hussein K, was accused of the October 2016 rape and murder of a 19-year-old medical student, Maria Ladenburger. Ladenburger was drowned in the River Dresiam. Police identified the suspect based on hair found at the scene of the crime.
Hussein refused to offer up his PIN to police, but a Munich-based cyber-forensics unit managed to unlock his iPhone. From there, authorities were able to examine the data in his Health app, which tracks things such as steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, sleep, and heart rate. Police suspected that two periods of strenuous activity—marked in the app as stair climbing—were actually when Hussein climbed down to, and then back out of, the river bank (a theory corroborated by the suspect’s location data).
An investigator of similar size and stature then attempted to recreate what they believed to have happened. He hiked down to where the body was found, recreated how they thought Hussein disposed of the body, and hiked back out. The investigator’s activity data echoed the suspect’s, showing flights of stairs climbed.
Hussein, who admitted his guilt, disputed some details in the trial. Investigators are also trying to determine his actual age—depending on whether he was 17 or older at the time of the incident changes the maximum time served for the crime from 10 to 30 years.
Phone data is proving an increasingly important piece of evidence for prosecutors. In 2014, authorities used iPhone location data as evidence against an alleged child pornographer. As far back as 2009, cellphone data, including photographs and geolocation information, have been used in cases. This German trial, however, may be one of the first to specifically look at Apple Health data as evidence in a case.
H/T BBC News
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.