Murder Investigation Leads to This 21st Century Question: What Might the Amazon Echo Know?

Dec 29, 2016  •  Post A Comment

A murder case has raised new questions about electronic privacy after the Amazon Echo surfaced as an element in the investigation. The New York Times reports that detectives investigating the Arkansas case are trying to gain access to audio that may have been recorded by the device.

“So far, the online retail giant has resisted demands by the police and prosecutors in Bentonville, Ark., for the information,” The Times reports. “Without addressing the specifics of the case, Amazon said in a statement that, as a matter of course, it ‘objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands.’”

According to court records, the investigation concerns the death of Victor Collins, who was reportedly found Nov. 22, 2015, in a hot tub at the home of James Bates.

“Investigators discovered signs of a struggle, including spots of blood, broken bottles and pieces of the spa that were on the ground,” The Times reports. “Detective Cpl. Josh Woodhams of the Bentonville Police Department wrote in an affidavit that he found an Amazon Echo on the home’s kitchen counter. The voice-activated device has seven microphones, and is equipped with sensors to hear users from any direction up to about 20 feet.”

Bates was charged with murder in February, “and as part of the investigation, the police sought from Amazon ‘electronic data in the form of audio recordings, transcribed words, text records and other data’ captured by the Echo,” The Times reports.

Whether authorities are entitled to the content of the Echo — and whether the Echo, which reportedly only starts recording when it hears a “wake word” such as Alexa or Amazon, might actually contain evidence — is at the center of a debate described in the piece as “a massive gray area.”

We encourage readers to click on the link above to The New York Times to read the full article.

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