Amazon Echo a Potential Witness in a Murder Case

As our homes become smarter and smarter with IOT devices, new avenues open up to investigators when a crime occurs in a household. Webcams, cellphones, and power meters are all common devices which can collect important data that can be used by investigators when solving a crime.

In an unprecedented case, Arkansas police obtained a warrant to examine any voice recordings that the Amazon Echo device could have stored during the night of the crime.

James Andrew Bates, an Arkansas man, is charged with first degree murder after a body was found dead in Bates’ bathtub last year. According to The Information, Amazon refused to release any audio data that could possibly be stored on their servers, they did however allow access to the suspect’s account. Police were able to extract a few audio clips using the account’s credentials but it is unclear if the evidence is relevant.

The Amazon Echo is activated by saying the word “Alexa”, however the device could have been activated by accident if a commotion ensued when the murder happened. It is unlikely that Bates activated the Echo during the crime but even if the device was awake even for a split second it might have useful recordings.

Even if the Echo doesn’t contain any useful data for investigators, another smart device in Bates’ home is likely to seal his fate. According to The Information:

[the smart water meter] showed that someone used 140 gallons of water between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. at Mr. Bates’ house, a much heavier than usual amount. Prosecutors allege that was a result of Mr. Bates using a garden hose to spray down the back patio area from the blood.

An issue with using data on IOT devices during a trial is the fact that the defendant can claim the evidence inadmissible either due to hearsay, or because it was recorded illegally without his consent.

As unfortunate as it is, Amazon did the right thing by refusing to provide every piece of data that was stored on their cloud by Bates’ device. If companies succumb to the governments’ broad request for data, they are effectively enabling mass surveillance of American citizens.

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