Police officers from Bentonville, Arkansas, formally asked Amazon the recordings of an Echo Dot. The home assistant could hold evidence that can help the authorities solve a murder case. A court gave the detectives a warrant to ask for the data.
Detectives found the Alexa-powered device yesterday near the victim’s body. The online retailer initially refused to give out any data but later provided investigators with purchase records and other lesser pieces of information.
The home assistant device belongs to the primary suspect, James Andrew Bates, who found the victim, Victor Collins, dead inside his house. Bates is currently awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
So far, the police have stated that a detective found a way to extract the information independently from the device, but there haven’t been any additional reports regarding the usefulness of this data.
Privacy or safety? Which one goes first?
The dispute between Amazon and the Bentonville Police Department is reminiscent of the Apple-FBI debate of 2015, where the former could not give authorities access to the iPhone owned by the San Bernardino shooter.
Amazon recently stated that they would not give their users’ information without a warrant. Bates’ attorney, Kimberly Weber, added that users “have an expectation of privacy” in their homes and that “a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us.”
The police could solve the case without the Echo Dot
Bates called the police the morning after he, Collins, and two other friends stayed at his home to watch a football game. The four men then entered Mr. Bates’ hot tub after the match.
The suspect claims one of them left that night, leaving Collins, the victim, and the other friend still in the hot tub. The third man claims he went home after Collins went to sleep, an alibi already confirmed by the police.
The state coroner has allegedly ruled Mr. Collins’ cause of death to be strangulation and drowning, which puts Mr. Bates as the likely culprit.
Police investigators also found that Mr. Bates spent an abnormal quantity of water the morning after with a garden house, which might indicate a cleanup. They also found traces of blood in various parts of the house.
The Echo Dot only captures audio when it hears the wake word “Alexa.” Some believe this fact makes Bates’ Echo data unnecessary for this case.
Privacy-concerned users can contact Amazon to have their command information or their recorded “utterances,” completely erased.