The Amazon Echo home assistants are capable of reciting the latest news and ordering you a transport, but can the famous “Alexa” also be helpful in cracking a case? According to Amazon, the Echo generally records mere snippets of conversation when triggered by the wake word, “Alexa.” The question remains are those tiny bits of conversation useful and are they legally accessible?
Police in Bentonville, currently investigating the murder case of Victor Collins, believe that the device belonging to his neighbor James Bates is in possession of records that can help them. According to Bates he found Collins’s lifeless body in the hot tub the next morning after a drinking party with buddies. Officers’ suspicions rose and wanted access to Echo data.
There’s some controversy as to whether obtaining information from the Amazon Echo product is a breach of the Fourth Amendment to privacy, however, one doesn’t need to enter a home in order to tap into the device’s recordings. The data can be accessed via Amazon’s servers. Nevertheless, Bentonville PD issued a warrant to Amazon to release the information under the pretense of it containing information relevant to the murder.
Why is Alexa Different from Other Devices?
Officials have seized smart devices before such as cell phones and computers in criminal investigations, but what makes “Alexa” so different? The Amazon Echo device is said to be an “always on” piece of machinery. The web advertisement for the Echo clearly states that before the wake word is spoken, the device begins recording a few seconds of audible dialogue, which can then only be deleted through the app. Amazon claims nothing is streamed or recorded to the cloud without the use of the wake word. Even though the echo is always listening out for it, it doesn’t record and store anything without the trigger.
A spokeswoman for the company clearly stated that Amazon would not release any data recorded by the device unless served a binding legal demand. Investigators had other ideas.
What’s the Verdict on Your Right to Privacy With What “Alexa” Records?
Privacy experts are claiming that there’s going to be an adjustment as to how long recordings are or can be stored by the device, because they have become targets to investigators. The worries of hackers and spy agencies are also being put under the blanket of dangers associated with preserving private information for too long.
In this case, investigators were able to seize Alexa, but with no assistance from Amazon to release critical data without a substantial legal push. In essence, “Alexa” is undecided in its participation to offer up information to the police.
If you’ve been convicted of a crime and the evidence against you involves an “always on” intelligent home device, it could be used in the case. Seek out professional advice from a criminal defense attorney to help you.
(n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2017, from http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-amazon-echo-privacy-qa-20170105-story.html
As We Leave More Digital Tracks, Amazon Echo Factors In Murder Investigation. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/12/28/507230487/as-we-leave-more-digital-tracks-amazon-echo-factors-in-murder-investigation
Can Alexa help solve a murder? Police think so – but Amazon won’t give up her data. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/12/28/can-alexa-help-solve-a-murder-police-think-so-but-amazon-wont-give-up-her-data/?utm_term=.a751839baaf7