Another Amazon-related incident has occurred in Arkansas, but this time, it involves a murder — and the authorities are targeting the defendant's Amazon Echo to solve it.
Solving A Murder With Alexa
Police in Arkansas want to obtain Amazon Echo data that could potentially aid a murder case. Authorities in Bentonville have already issued an official warrant behooving Amazon to provide them with audio or recordings from an Echo device belonging to James Andrew Bates.
Bates is set to face court next year for first-degree murder for Victor Collins' death, according to The Information.
Amazon Says Back Off
Amazon, however, is averse with letting the authorities obtain the data they need.
"Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course," a spokesperson told Engadget.
While it didn't serve police the Echo data logged on its servers, Amazon did provide Bates' account details and purchases. The police said that they were able to extract data off the device, though it's uncertain what they were able to uncover.
Smart speakers such as the Echo, or Google Home, sport an always-on feature that lets it pick up commands at virtually any point in time. These devices respond to wake words, providing information upon hearing the so-called word. In Echo's case, voice commands are handled by the company's proprietary voice assistant Alexa, shooting back at queries only when prompted to do so. Despite this, it's not a rare occurrence for the device to be mistakenly activated. Presumably, the authorities are looking for audio records that Echo might have picked up the night of the incident.
Some of these voice commands aren't stored locally on the device, but are instead logged onto Amazon's servers.
Bates' Echo recordings have yet to be disclosed, but the device was reportedly tasked to play music the night of the murder. There's a slim chance that the device is storing evidence to help incriminate Bates, but nevertheless, the case raises a point: could always-on smart speakers or similar devices be used to testify against its owners? Moreover, how admissible could this data be in court proceedings?
A defendant could argue that data pulled from always-on devices are invalid, since their very nature of existence is without consent. Technology and the law hasn't always cooped up nicely in the past, especially when privacy is involved.
Just as the FBI's quest to unlock an iPhone as part of the San Bernardino case saw the Feds and Apple engage in a tug-o-war, this new incident with Amazon is no different, and it could probably be difficult for both to achieve a balance between keeping customers' privacy safe, and aiding the process of justice.