Apple health data is being used as evidence in a rape and murder investigation

Samantha Cole, Motherboard:

One of the most important witnesses to the rape and homicide of a 19-year-old-woman in Germany might be a stock app on the iPhone of her alleged murderer.

Hussein K., an Afghan refugee in Freiburg, has been on trial since September for allegedly raping and murdering a student in Freiburg, and disposing of her body in a river.


He refused to give authorities the passcode to his iPhone, but investigators hired a Munich company (which one is not publicly known) to gain access his device, according to German news outlet Welt. They searched through Apple’s Health app, which was added to all iPhones with the release of iOS 8 in 2014, and were able to gain more data about what he was doing that day. The app records how many steps he took and what kind of activity he was doing throughout that day.

The app recorded a portion of his activity as “climbing stairs,” which authorities were able to correlate with the time he would have dragged his victim down the river embankment, and then climbed back up. Freiburg police sent an investigator to the scene to replicate his movements, and sure enough, his Health app activity correlated with what was recorded on the defendant’s phone.

This is two stories. First and foremost, there’s the use of HealthKit data in a murder/rape trial. But underneath is the question of how the unnamed German firm was able to get into the phone.

  • Mo

    My question is whether the German legal system specifically allows for this without some sort of court order’s permission.

    • I’d like to know when they got this data from the iPhone, too. If he’s been on trial since September, I assume they already had it when they went to trial?

      I often wish what law enforcement wanted was actually available: A way to make sure that the data was available given sufficient need (and, of course, given some process to get to it). But given that we disagree on sufficient need, not to mention the technical impossibility of keeping whatever secret is used to access the data, it’s just never going to happen.

      • Mo

        I wish security-state-enabled law enforcement would actually limit itself to sufficient need, whatever the definition. Without genuine oversight — not just “we’ll police ourselves, thank you” — this sort of power will always be abused and is always vulnerable to leaks or theft.

  • GlennC777

    Most of the debate about law enforcement access to phone data has centered on what they lose if they don’t have that access: access to call records, for example. The big story is just the opposite: how much they gain if they do have access. Data like this would never have been available in the past, and there are vast troves of this and other types of information.

    Key in this is that the information can be used to convict a guilty party, but it could also uncover innocent coincidences that could be used to convict the innocent. It only takes a few points of “circumstantial” evidence, each one a plausible coincidence, for a prosecutor to convince a jury. Such convictions have been depressingly common in the past, without access to this vast potential array of new data, as DNA exonerations have made clear.

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    • lucascott

      yep. about all this might do is prove he’s lying if he claims he was sleeping at the time in question. but it doesn’t really prove that he wasn’t climbing up stairs or not.

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