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Increasingly, digital devices figuring largely in criminal cases

Most of us who at least occasionally flick on the tube to watch a bit of television are by now acquainted -- through seemingly endless commercials -- with a relatively new digital offering that responds to voice commands by delivering requested-for information. It's likely that some of our readers already own such a device.

Indeed, the interest in such so-called "personal assistant" tools is widespread and growing.

And not just among the consuming public.

As noted in a recent article chronicling a murder case in one state, authorities have executed a search warrant upon Amazon, seeking information from its Echo tool that may be stored in the company's servers.

The reason why: Investigators say that Echo may have recorded some conversation and/or attendant noises that are relevant to a murder investigation.

Such a request is virtually guaranteed to get backlash from critics, especially privacy advocates who note a slippery slope concerning authorities' attempts to collect data from digital devices such as Echo, smartphones and laptops.

Stated concerns are myriad. One centers on the degree to which the government might be able to secure confidential information without getting a warrant. Another focuses upon the reasonable expectations that any consumer has when interacting with digital devices in public.

And then there's this: When do such requests simply become too broad and intrusive? The above-cited article points to concerns where data, "otherwise seemingly innocuous, could be used to draw inferences or guesses about habits and activities."

Where should the line be drawn? And how can it be reasonably determined in any given case that criminal law authorities are acting lawfully in their efforts to secure information that its user unquestionably regarded as private?

Similar and additional questions will undoubtedly increase in the future, as the public interacts with digital devices at home and elsewhere in an expanding way.

"[G]uidelines and standards are far from settled," notes one commentator.

Evidence-related issues are often central to and problematic in a criminal law case. Questions or concerns in a given matter should be timely directed to a proven defense attorney.

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