Amazon denies police Echo data sought in murder case warrant
The tech industry news site The Information is reporting that based on court documents, Amazon is refusing to share audio recordings and other data from the Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates, who is charged with murdering Victor Collins in November 2015. Collins’ body was discovered in Bates’ hot tub in Bentonville, Arkansas, and authorities have since pursued information stored inside multiple “smart” devices found on Bates’ property.
Amazon did, however, release to police Bates’ account information and purchase history, while law enforcement has said they obtained some information from their physical confiscation of the Echo device, according to The Information.
"You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us," defense attorney Kimberly Weber told The Information.
What police are looking for is any audio evidence that the Echo may have picked up, as the smart device is programmed to send recordings to an Amazon cloud after a “wake word” is spoken in its vicinity, such as “Alexa.” Even if Bates never intended to use the Echo, police could get lucky, as it is possible the device could mistakenly begin transmitting audio from Bates’ home if a sound close to a wake word was made.
Police sought to obtain anything and everything Bates’ Echo had sent to Amazon’s cloud, but now that Amazon is reportedly acting in the name of customer privacy, the company’s own policy and practices may come under the spotlight.
Amazon’s Echo is said to always be listening for wake words, but purportedly erases what it hears from its memory once it is determined the sounds were not meant for its purposes.
"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," the company said in a statement to Engadget on Tuesday.