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Amazon refuses to hand over Echo data in murder case, says recordings are protected by...

By midian182 ยท 21 replies
Feb 24, 2017
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  1. Back in December, reports surfaced of a murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas which saw police issue Amazon a warrant for any audio recordings to come from the prime suspect’s Echo device. But the retail giant is fighting the request, claiming that the recorded data and Alexa’s responses are protected under the first amendment.

    Amazon has filed a motion to have the search warrant dismissed. The firm says prosecutors have failed to establish it is necessary, and that the company must consider the privacy implications when it comes to such requests. Amazon also wants prosecutors to prove the information isn’t available elsewhere.

    "The recordings stored by Amazon for a subscriber’s Echo device will usually be both (1) the user’s speech, in the form of a request for information from Alexa, and (2) a transcript or depiction of the Alexa Voice Service response conveying the information it determines would be most responsive to the user’s query. Both types of information are protected speech under the First Amendment,” states the motion.

    Even if the warrant is upheld and Amazon is forced to hand over the data, the company wants the court to review everything first to make sure it is relevant to the case.

    James Andrew Bates was charged with murder after friend and former Georgia police officer Victor Collins was found floating face-up in his hot tub in November 2015.

    Bates, who called the authorities to report he’d found the body, says it was an accident. But the deceased’s eye and lips were swollen, and blood spots were found around the rim of the hot tub. Additionally, Bates’ water meter shows 140 gallons of water was used between 1 am and 3 am on the night in question. Allegedly to wash away evidence of the crime from the patio.

    Detectives say music was being streamed on an Echo speaker near the tub at the time of death. The authorities want to know if the wake word was unintentionally or purposely said on the night, activating Alexa and possibly recording something that could help the investigation. The data could also prove whether Bates was asleep at the time when the alleged murder took place, which is what he claims.

    The case has similarities with Apple’s fight against the FBI last year. The company refused to unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5c. The agency eventually turned to another firm for help breaking into the handset.

    Not only could the case set a legal precedent when it comes to smart devices and crime, but it could also show exactly how much audio data is captured and stored by these products without owners realizing.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Billy Vinson

    Billy Vinson TS Enthusiast Posts: 54   +34

    Good! Murder is bad, but this sets a standard and confidence in Amazon, in my opinion. Great to hear!
  3. ChubbySerb

    ChubbySerb TS Rookie

    Common sense should be exercised in situations like this. The dead do not care about privacy
    lazer likes this.
  4. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,286

    If that's the case then the law agency should do what any other self respecting law agency will do, turn to their slimy, shady, dodgy but cosy and close underworld connections and get it hacked, cracked and whacked.
  5. EClyde

    EClyde TS Evangelist Posts: 1,886   +707

    Great Murder is bad and Amazon supports it !!
  6. RebelFlag

    RebelFlag TS Addict Posts: 155   +90

    I don't think this in any way has anything to do with Amazon condoning murder. What is has to do with is a persons right to privacy within their own home. The future of any voice operated devices would be severely limited if anything they record can be used against the owner. There would be little or no protection from agencies who are less than honest using only bits and pieces of recorded conversations. It could also be a fifth amendment issue if the recording captures the person saying anything in regard to the offense he/she allegedly committed.
  7. amstech

    amstech IT Overlord Posts: 2,310   +1,527

    Be safe, be second amendment.
  8. LordFox

    LordFox TS Rookie

    This is a precedent because what step is it from here to police making requests for entire logs of recordings going back as long as a person owns the device ... I wouldn't buy 1, I knew they're spies into your home.
    from governments using your words to paint people as unpatriotic to the implications towards incrimination

    this is 1984, and the echo is the painting recording everything you say in your own home ...... insanity
  9. LordFox

    LordFox TS Rookie

    go on make a joke in your home about smoking crack or anything stupid then find yourself in prison
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  10. Capaill

    Capaill TS Evangelist Posts: 942   +523

    Even if it were logical to assume that the dead person has no rights and the criminal has no rights, there is still a possibility that a visitor is recorded on it, neighbours, etc. I'm sure Amazon are resisting as they don't want the government dictating what they can or cannot do but it is still commendable that they are taking a stand to protect their customers' data.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  11. MonsterZero

    MonsterZero TS Evangelist Posts: 582   +334

    Bro, no need to bring your tin foil hat into the conversation, the devices don't actively record anything unless you say the wake word. Even then there are lights on the device so you know exactly when it's listening.
  12. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 3,164   +1,416

    Except for one giant difference - the loved ones of the dead guy probably want his murder solved. This isn't a case of the owner of the recording device not wanting the contents exposed - it's the exact opposite.

    If this guy had a security camera recording his front door and the cops wanted to see the footage from the night he was murdered, it would be considered completely insane for the police not to be allowed to see the video on the basis that 'the footage may not be relevant, and we don't want to set the precedent that police can view the personal lives of murder victims.'

    The only difference is we have a company in control of the recording and not the next of kin.

    If Amazon really believed in privacy they would give ownership of the recordings to the owner of the recorder - in this case - his family.
  13. Tanstar

    Tanstar TS Evangelist Posts: 658   +202

    I first read it as the Alexa was in the accused's home. In which case I would think the 5th Amendment would be more appropriate than the first. If the Alexa is in the home of the deceased, then this is stupid.
  14. Tanstar

    Tanstar TS Evangelist Posts: 658   +202

    I just got this from a better worded article: "Amazon is currently battling the State of Arkansas, which wants Amazon to deliver any information that may have been collected by an Echo device owned by a defendant charged with murder."

    So the Alexa is owned by the defendant. Amazon is in the right. Granted, if the guy is innocent he could easily wave those 1st or 5th amendment rights.
    cliffordcooley and Darth Shiv like this.
  15. amghwk

    amghwk TS Guru Posts: 569   +351

    Right to privacy should not be an obstacle in solving a vice, especially in this murder case.

    Think, what you would do if your family member was involved as the victim. Would you still be happy that Amazon is protecting it's privacy, or would you rather go after any means possible within the law in establishing the case against the killer?

    No police would simply ask Amazon to hand out any one's device for no reason.
  16. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,579   +5,139

    I'm fairly certain it wouldn't be, if there was a court order. Legally no one is obligated to do anything without a court order.
    American Man likes this.
  17. mrjgriffin

    mrjgriffin TS Evangelist Posts: 349   +163

    I like how amazon can "fight" this warrant but if any warrant is coming at me I'm automatically screwed.
    Master Yeti likes this.
  18. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,972   +581

    Yeah exactly this. Voice control will be a hard sell if you are monitored by authorities just by using it. Who wants to volunteer to 100% surveillance 24/7?
    RebelFlag and cliffordcooley like this.
  19. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,972   +581

    If I were innocent in that scenario I'd still tell them to GAGF. They should do their job without violating human rights.
  20. American Man

    American Man TS Rookie

    Bust Amazon for obstruction of justice
  21. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,254   +699

    Yeah, I feel like using the 1st is a flimsy defense. The first is designed to protect reporters and journalism from government reprisal for the stories they print. But the 5th is the right to not self-incriminate, so that seems a little more applicable since it is the defendant's Alexa and Amazon account.

    I'm also wondering how wire tapping laws would play into this.
    RebelFlag likes this.
  22. RebelFlag

    RebelFlag TS Addict Posts: 155   +90

    My understanding is that the recorder was in the house of the accused. If the recorder was in the house of the victim, then I totally agree with you that the police should have access to the recordings as long as they are released by the family of the deceased.
    MilwaukeeMike likes this.

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