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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.