“Alexa, please help us solve this crime.”
That’s a phrase we could be hearing more of in the future, as authorities have recently requested the data from one of Amazon’s trusty gadgets, the Amazon Echo, in the hope that it will aid in uncovering additional details about a murder trial.
Police in Bentonville, Arkansas have issued a warrant to Amazon to hand over any audio or records from the Echo device of one James Andrew Bates, a man set to go to trial next year for first-degree murder of Victor Collins, who was reportedly found dead in Bates’ hot tub last November.
Though Amazon’s Echo devices are not necessarily “recording devices,” they come equipped with a virtual assistant, Alexa, which users converse with to complete tasks or obtain information.
When a user activates the Echo device with a vocal command it will begin recording for recognition purposes. The recording is then sent to Amazons cloud servers so a response can be elicited.
Amazon stores these recordings and makes them available via the Alexa companion smartphone app, just in case you want to review anything in the future. By requesting access to the smart speaker’s information as evidence, authorities could use the device history to hear if anything significant was said leading up to the murder.
“Amazon has refused to comply with the warrant. We havent recovered anything from the device as a result.”
Mashable reached out to The Bentonville Police Department for additional comment and was referred to prosecuting attorney, Nathan Smith, who confirmed police investigating the murder issued a warrant to Amazon.com to turn over audio and other records from the suspect’s Echo servers.
“Amazon has refused to comply with the warrant. We havent recovered anything from the device as a result,” Smith told Mashable via email.
He believes Amazon is legally required to comply with the warrant and doesn’t see how it is any different to a search warrant for a computer.
“If Amazon has concerns about trade secrets or intellectual property rights, there are ways to excise such information from what is provided,” Smith said. “I dont believe there is any rational or legal basis for concluding that one has to comply with a search warrant for one’s home or even the drawing of ones blood, but not a computer.”
On the other hand, defense attorney for Bates, Kimberly Weber, feels obtaining the Echo data would be a serious violation of privacy. “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” she said.
When asked about the case, an Amazon spokesperson told Mashable, “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
This is not the first time technology has played a role in legal matters, nor the first time the question of privacy rights have come into play.
Since the hot tub appears to have played a part in the murder, authorities have reportedly also taken a look at devices like Bates’ water meter, which showed 140 gallons of water were used between 1:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m the night Collins was found dead.