Alexa, The Amazon Echo, May Be The Key Witness To A Murder, And Amazon Is Refusing To Comply

The Amazon Echo may be a key witness to a murder.

The Amazon Echo may be a key witness to a murder.

Amazon Echo Device May Contain Recordings From Murder

Bentonville, Arkansas – Detectives in Bentonville, Arkansas are battling with Amazon to release information that may have been recorded during a murder in an Arkansas home in November of 2015.  Amazon’s stance appears much more extreme than Apple’s stance with the San Bernadino terrorist’s iPhone.

As initially reported by The Information, In November of 2015 after a night of drinking at the home of James Andrew Bates, Victor Collins was found dead in a hot tub.  Detectives have gone to great lengths to gather evidence on the case and have long believed that additional evidence may have been captured by Bates’ Amazon Echo device between November 21st and November 22nd.  The Amazon Echo is considered an ‘always-on’ device but is only ‘awakened’ by key words, like “Alexa.”  The Echo will sometimes turn on with similar sounding phrases during its passive recording if the sounds are similar to ‘wake words’ and detectives hope that some of what happened during the murder was captured on the device.

Amazon has twice declined to release any data recordings on the device, citing privacy.  Amazon does admit to storing all recordings to help improve it’s accuracy and service but does not have an official record of how long they keep such data.  There is no way for a consumer to turn off the data capture without unplugging the device.  Amazon did release parts of Bates’ account history to law enforcement but would not agree to release any voice recordings.  Detectives in this case have seized the device and were able to gather some information but it is unclear how much.  Local police have now served Amazon with a warrant demanding that any information they have be released.

Bates’ defense attorney Kimberly Weber has adamantly fought against such measures.  “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.  Major tech companies tend to agree.  Apple and now Amazon have taken wide spread criticism for refusing to release data after high profile incidents where their technology was present.  Tech giants take data security very seriously and see the release of such information as dangerous in the long run.  However, many agree that it wouldn’t be out of question for courts to compel the tech companies to release such data.

When Apple refused to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, the case largely centered on the fact that a significant amount of engineering would be required to release the information. If Apple was compelled to unlock the phone, they would be requiring the company to do use a lot of resources to unlock the phone. Amazon, however, has easy access to the requested information. Amazon appears to have no compelling reason to refuse to provide the information requested in the warrant. Amazon argues that they object to “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands.” However, because the Echo is a personal household device, and there is a specific timeframe available, any claim that the request is overbroad seems unlikely to succeed in court. If Amazon continues this fight and precedent is set, it is likely to weaken privacy on personal electronics.

People do have an expectation of privacy on their electronic devices which is why a warrant was required and obtained. Amazon’s position appears to be unreasonable.

In this particular murder investigation, detectives uncovered other valuable information, including water meter logs.  The Bentonville Police have already discovered 140 gallons of water was released between 1 AM and 3 AM on the night Collins was found dead.  It is evidence, they say, of a cover-up to wash away evidence.  Bates is scheduled to begin trial at the beginning of the year, for first-degree murder.

Do you think that Amazon has a legitimate reason to decline to provide the information requested in the warrant? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Prices for the Amazon Echo devices vary, but they start as low as $49.99 on Amazon.