First Amendment Battle Delayed As Amazon Gives Up Echo Data

Amazon has finally given investigators data from the Amazon Echo owned by James Bates that may contain information that is important to the Arkansas murder case from two years ago that Bates is currently involved in. The company fought handing over the data, but Friday the defendant, Bates, agreed to let investigators have access to the device in relation to the investigation. Amazon believed that it would violate the customer’s privacy rights if it handed over the data citing a ruling from 2010 which stated that fear of government tracking of what people read, listen to, or view could hurt the exercise of the First Amendment. However, since the data has been handed over by the defense, that fight in court will have to wait for another day.

The case dates back to November of 2015 when Bates said he invited a few guys including the victim, Victor Collins, over to watch a football game. He stated that after the game ended Collins and another guest were still drinking in the hot tub when he went to bed about 1 am. Bates claimed that when he woke up he found Collins floating in the water. The police didn't buy his story and three months later Bates was arrested. That's when the fight between Amazon and investigators began. Authorities presented Amazon with a warrant for the data, but the company refused to give the investigators the audio recordings and would only turn over the record of transactions. The company said it didn't believe there was a reasonable cause to collect the data and cautioned on the side of privacy.

The Amazon Echo is always listening and is activated when it hears the wake word “Alexa”, that is when it starts recording. Once it starts the recording, that information is then relayed to Amazon's servers where it is stored. According to one witness music was playing throughout the evening, so this is why investigators fought for the data as they hope that the Echo does give them further insight to what transpired that day. For now, we will wait to see what happens at Bates’s next hearing on Wednesday to see if the Echo actually contains any relevant information pertaining to the case.

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