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Police want Amazon Echo data in murder case

by Todd Haselton | December 28, 2016December 28, 2016 6:00 am PDT

If you’re among the millions of people who received an Amazon Echo product during the holidays this year, this story may pique your interest. According to The Information, police in Arkansas recently served Amazon with a warrant asking for data collected by an Amazon Echo. The Echo in question belonged to a man named James Andrew Bates, who’s being tried for murder.

This is the first time we’ve heard of police trying to access data from a smart home hub device but, given that the Amazon Echo voice assistant Alexa sits in the middle of a room, theoretically always listening, one can understand why the police might want access. Amazon has long stood by its claims of Echo privacy, however, noting that it isn’t always listening and, instead, only executes commands after a user manually asks for Alexa. Still, some of that private data could be revealing. Voice records might show if someone was at home or not. Or perhaps search results could shed light on what someone might have (or might not have) been planning in the days or moments before a murder.

In this case, the Echo might reveal additional data related to the murder. According to Engadget, Bates had dumped around 140 gallons of water in the early-morning hours that he allegedly murdered a man named Victor Collins. Was he trying to wash something a way? Could something inside the Echo explain more of the master plan? Those seem to be details the prosecution is trying to uncover.

Amazon says it won’t hand over the data.

In a statement to Engadget, Amazon said it won’t hand over the information until it has a legal demand. “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” the company said. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.” Sounds like the warrant wasn’t enough for this sort of data. My guess is this is going to become a much larger trend as smart home assistants become more prevalent.


Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...

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