Amazon recently received a warrant to hand over recordings of an Echo speaker connected to a 2015 murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas. The smart speaker belongs to one James Andrew Bates, a man accused of first-degree murder of Victor Collins in November of last year. Bates’ murder trial is scheduled to start in 2017, and Amazon was ordered to provide police with all audio and other records originating from the device owned by the defendant. Recently leaked court documents reveal how the Seattle-based tech giant refused to comply with the warrant on two occasions and has only agreed to deliver Bates’ Amazon account information and purchase history. The Bentonville authorities are yet to comment on Amazon’s unwillingness to fully comply with the warrant, while the company itself is currently declining requests for comments on this case.
In the meantime, investigators from Arkansas have allegedly managed to extract some data from the Echo unit in question. No details on the type and scope of this data were given, but detectives in charge of the murder case were reportedly after anything that Bates’ Echo recorded during the fatal night in Bentonville in late 2015. The authorities are apparently aware of the fact that Amazon’s connected speaker stores a rather small amount of information locally and instead uploads all relevant data to Amazon’s servers. They’re also familiar with the basic workings of the device, i.e. the fact it’s designed to record audio that’s immediately preceded by one of its trigger words and nothing else. With that said, the investigators are reportedly hoping that the Echo unit in question recorded some significant piece of evidence on accident, as the speaker can occasionally turn on when it hears a phrase that sounds similar to one of its trigger words. Bates also owned several other IoT devices, some of which have already been used against him in court, including a water meter attached to his hot tub in which Collins’ body was found last year. Investigators already argued how the meter shows Bates used 140 gallons of water during the night Collins was murdered, implying he used the water to wash away incriminating evidence from the crime scene.
This case also raises a number of more general concerns about IoT devices and privacy, which also happens to be one of the main arguments currently employed by Bates’ defense attorney Kimberly Weber. In a recent statement, Weber asserted that law enforcement shouldn’t use technology which people buy to improve their quality of life against them, adding that all individuals have “an expectation of privacy” in their homes.