Alexa a witness to murder? Prosecutors seek Amazon Echo data

December 28, 2016 by Jill Bleed
This July 29, 2015, file photo shows Amazon's Echo speaker, which responds to voice commands, in New York. A prosecutor investigating the death of a man whose body was found in a hot tub wants to expand the probe to include a potential new kind of evidence: the suspect's Amazon Echo smart speaker. Amazon has called the request "overbroad or otherwise inappropriate." (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Authorities investigating the death of an Arkansas man whose body was found in a hot tub want to expand the probe to include a new kind of evidence: any comments overheard by the suspect's Amazon Echo smart speaker.

Amazon said it objects to "overbroad" requests as a matter of practice, but prosecutors insist their idea is rooted in a legal precedent that's "as old as Methuselah."

The issue emerged in the slaying of Victor Collins, who was found floating face-up last year in the hot tub at a friend's home in Bentonville, about 150 miles northwest of Little Rock. The friend, James Andrew Bates, was later charged with murder.

Prosecutors have asked the court to force Amazon to provide data from the Echo that could reveal more clues about the night of Nov. 22, 2015, when Collins was apparently strangled and drowned.

Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said Wednesday that he has no idea if the device recorded anything related to the death. But looking for clues is simply "a question of law enforcement doing their due diligence."

Like any investigation, "law enforcement has an obligation to try to obtain evidence of the crime," Smith said.

The device is a cylinder-shaped speaker with internet-connected microphones that debuted in late 2014. Similar to other gadgets, it listens for a user's voice and responds to commands—to play music, read the morning headlines or add an upcoming event to a calendar, for instance. The Echo can speak back to the user in a female voice known as "Alexa."

The search warrant, signed by a judge in August, requests all "audio recordings, transcribed records, text records and other data" from Bates' Echo speaker.

So far, authorities have obtained only basic subscriber and account information. Smith said Wednesday that his office has had discussions with Amazon, but that the bulk of the request remains unfulfilled.

The prosecution's request was first reported this week by The Information, a news site that covers the technology industry.

Amazon spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall declined to comment specifically on the Arkansas case but said in a statement that the company "will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand." Amazon, Pearsall added, objects to "overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course."

On its website , the company says the Echo streams audio to cloud-based storage after it detects the user's "wake word," and that it stops recording once a question or request has been processed.

Smith compared his request to routine warrants that seek a record of cellphone "pings," which can be used to track a user's location.

"It is a search warrant for a new device, but the legal concept is old as Methuselah," he said.

The Arkansas slaying could be a test case for how evidence rules apply to information from home appliances connected to the internet such as water meters, thermostats and lighting systems, said Nuala O'Connor, president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit group that works on privacy and civil-liberties issues. She previously worked for Amazon.

Law enforcement agencies will have to be careful in drawing conclusions from smart systems, she said. If a case is built on changes in patterns of people's behavior, there's a chance that prosecutors and police "could guess wrong."

"That's where we're going to get into issues of circumstantial evidence," O'Connor said.

The next court hearing for Bates, who has professed his innocence, is set for March 17.

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MR166
4.4 / 5 (7) Dec 28, 2016
The founding fathers of the US risked life and limb to protect us from illegal search and seizure. Now the collective IQ of the nation is so low that we pay corporations to record our most private conversations in our homes.
rrrander
not rated yet Dec 29, 2016
These corporations are legal entities unto themselves. Stone-walling on potential evidence in a murder case. Put the CEO of Amazon in jail for contempt.
MR166
3 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2016
"Stone-walling on potential evidence in a murder case. Put the CEO of Amazon in jail for contempt."

You really do not understand US law. Lets say that you an I have a meeting and I secretly record it. If there is no warrant, that is against the law in most states and could not be used as evidence in a court. So this creates the legal question of whether of not the people in that home knew that a permanent record was being made of their conversation.

There is no doubt in my mind that Amazon will take all of this data and use words spoken privately in your home in order to direct advertising to you. They will also sell this info to other advertisers.

TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Dec 29, 2016
You really do not understand US law. Lets say that you an I have a meeting and I secretly record it. If there is no warrant, that is against the law
Let's say you and I and a third guy named 'AI' are having a conversation, kind of like we are here. AI has a very good memory and is willing to give testimony that you are a crook from what you disclose in our little tete-a-tete. In fact, from his unique nature he is constitutionally incapable of refusing to testify nor can he lie about what he heard.

Are you sweating yet?

Scofflaws would rather have cops chase them down a crowded highway than suffer the certitude of speed cams because they want to break the law. They feel it is their god-given right to cheat, one of the many reasons god was invented in the first place.

Sooner or later AI will make this impossible no matter what scofflaws say.

We constantly design machines to counter human nature.
drakored
5 / 5 (1) Dec 29, 2016
MRR166, while I agree with you on corporations storing some particularly private info and society willingly giving a bunch of it away stupidly, in this case I don't agree. The Echo doesn't have the capability to "record our most private conversations in our homes".... unless of course you're a complete imbecile and start all of your most private convos with "[Echo|Amazon|Alexa]". It requires the initial word you select before it enables recording. The worst thing they might record around my house is "Echo, Order a new roll of toil.. [hey dad, dad, dad...]... cancel... (sigh)".
daqman
5 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2016
Amazon insists that nothing is recorded by an Echo in the traditional sense of an audio recording. The echo takes the sound bite following the trigger word "Alexa" and uses Amazon's servers for voice recognition. Once the voice recognition has taken place the command that that resulted from the voice recognition is recorded. I have an Echo and you can look on the companion iPhone App to see the result of the voice recognition and flag whether the recognition got it right or wrong. As far as I know, and as Amazon insists, the audio is not permanently recorded. If it was my Echo would be out in the trash right now for exactly the reasons that caused this case. If the Echo was known to be making a permanent recording it could be argued that the act of owning an Echo is implicit consent to recording. Law enforcement or any other entity with access to the recording could then take sound bites out of context to "prove" anything they wanted.
krundoloss
5 / 5 (1) Dec 29, 2016
This type of data being used to prosecute is becoming so widespread. Next thing that will happen is someone will turn off their cell phone and pull the battery, and then they will be prosecuted "Why did you turn off your cell phone the night of the murder". Its an inevitability, all of these technologies will be used to prosecute, and you can either accept it and use the technology, or refuse to and don't use it. This is the world we live in now. We can slow it down, but really we cant stop it, and it will control and influence us all.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2016
Next thing that will happen is someone will turn off their cell phone and pull the battery, and then they will be prosecuted "Why did you turn off your cell phone the night of the murder"
We will have the choice to be documented or not. But undocumented people will have less freedom.

Your credit score, criminal history, and insurance rates document your trustworthiness. You are already being monitored and judged.

You may choose to remain undocumented but it will affect your trustworthiness (call it T) and hence your freedom.

And you may opt to share your T or not, but many people will be reluctant to deal with you, again restricting your freedom. Call it digitized credit. Virtual rep.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2016
Look at all the trouble people go to to establish the credibility of posters here at physorg. Obviously it's impossible to verify personal credentials so we rely on past performance and the willingness to cite respected sources from the Web.

Wiki is a site that spends a lot of time and effort doing this very same thing. This is a trend and because trustworthiness means so much to so many people, we will gladly relinquish the determination of it to AI.
MR166
5 / 5 (1) Dec 29, 2016
"We will have the choice to be documented or not. But undocumented people will have less freedom."

Wow Otto that is the scariest statement that I have ever heard. Even scarier is the fact that you seem willing to accept this as normal. I suppose that one will need to accept your outlook in order to be a functioning citizen in the NWO.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2016
Wow Otto that is the scariest statement that I have ever heard. Even scarier is the fact that you seem willing to accept this as normal. I suppose that one will need to accept your outlook in order to be a functioning citizen in the NWO
It's exactly the way things are NOW. Grow up.

Machines will only make them more equitable. More just. And impossible to avoid. Like death.
MR166
not rated yet Dec 30, 2016
"Machines will only make them more equitable. More just. And impossible to avoid. Like death."

I suppose that the RFID tags will also be mandatory. After all, its for the children's safety.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
"Machines will only make them more equitable. More just. And impossible to avoid. Like death."

I suppose that the RFID tags will also be mandatory. After all, its for the children's safety.
Not mandatory but you would be foolish not to have one. You already have a phone that does far more. An interlinked RFID network in your body that would be impossible to remove would make you far safer and give you far more freedom.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Dec 30, 2016
For the amusement of our British members: the unspeakable in pursuit of the inaudible.

Worth noting that if Alexa works as advertised, there is no possibility of an audio recording of the murder; Amazon is worried about two things: a) their image, as in "no this is not a possible means of monitoring you without your knowledge," and b) their technology, which they'd have to describe in detail revealing their algorithms and implementation and assisting potential competitors. Finally, it is unlikely in the extreme, speaking as an implementer myself, that there is anything either probitive or exculpatory available; what we're looking at here is a bunch of technical numbskulls who don't understand how Alexa has to work on a fishing expedition.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Dec 31, 2016
If there is no warrant, that is against the law in most states and could not be used as evidence in a court
@MR
yes & no dependent on state

for starters, it is not against the law unless specifically stated in state law that you must have a warrant to record

in a lot of states (like mine, and AR above) so long as one party is knowledgeable of the recording in said meeting then it's legal to record or utilise in court

it is usable in court under corroborating circumstantial evidence, even without a warrant, though having a warrant for the material makes it easier to be accepted

Note the article is about AR state law, and considering they allow for recording sans warrant, then the company is required by law to submit the data under subpoena or request of warrant, especially as the owner (suspect) specifically allowed said recording device in the area while in the commission of a crime and was knowledgeable of said product during the act
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Dec 31, 2016
Next thing that will happen is someone will turn off their cell phone and pull the battery, and then they will be prosecuted "Why did you turn off your cell phone the night of the murder"
@krundoloss
it is already usable in court as circumstantial evidence to build a case for intent or premeditation

see: https://www.law.c...ules/fre

it cannot, however, establish a factual argument of anything other than if the phone is off or on

with the exception of a written statement of premeditation or intent published earlier than the act, then almost all arguments to demonstrate intent or premeditation tend to be circumstantial

see also: http://www.aele.o...J401.pdf
gkam
Dec 31, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
@STOLEN VALOR LIAR-bully

there are states who can record without consent of other parties (called One-Party Consent Statutes)
One-Party Consent Statutes

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia permit individuals to record conversations to which they are a party without informing the other parties that they are doing so. These laws are referred to as "one-party consent" statutes, and as long as you are a party to the conversation, it is legal for you to record it. (Nevada also has a one-party consent statute, but the state Supreme Court has interpreted it as an all-party rule.)
https://beaconbul...ng-laws/

there is an easily accessible link referenced on that site, but since you completely ignored the rules of evidence link, go here: http://www.dmlp.o...hearings

per your own request to help clean up the sniping trolls...
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
Hey, Rumpy, outgrow your fixation on me. You can do it.

If you had served in the military like me, you could have access to help. But draft-dodgers do not have those avenues for assistance.

As for "Stolen Valor", you know the truth, and FEAR it, as a stay-at-home "patriot".
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
@STOLEN VALOR LIAR-bully

considering you have yet to post on topic in this thread or add any relevant commentary, let alone actually substantiate your post with evidence, then the only fixation here is your own as you sought out any thread that i or Ira post in

especially considering i've already proven your post above to be nonfactual as well as an oft repeated lie

there is no reason for you to derail yet another thread with your off-topic non-evidenciary arguments from opinion or delusion, so i will not be replying to you unless you can provide evidence supporting your claims

no evidence means no factual support for your comments

no factual support means you're delusional and your argument is an emotional appeal for attention

last post unless you can actually support your claims with evidence

Oh... and per your own request..., well, you get the idea
gkam
1.3 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
Alexa is not going to solve that case, and you are not going to overcome your pathetic fixation on me for besting you.

If you had served in the military you could get real help, and not have to hide in the woods and supply your own power. The rest of us are civilized.

But, as I have said, Trump can just ask his buddy Pootie for the real recordings.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
@STOLEN VALOR LIAR-bully
Alexa is not going to solve that case
no evidnece, but at least relevant to the topic
*so*

where, in any of my posts, did i state it would "solve the case"?

there isn't even any indication that it recorded anything relevant to the homicide, but that can't actually be known until it is examined by forensic examiners, which is why the warrant is asking for said data

legally, mind you, per a well established system and existing precedents of historical recording devices (automated and manual) with personal knowledge etc

..

the rest of your post is continued regurgitation of known blatant lies as well as libel

and already proven false multiple times on PO alone

per your own request to "clean up the site" ...
gkam
1.5 / 5 (6) Dec 31, 2016
"where, in any of my posts, did i state it would "solve the case"? "
--------------------------------
Sorry, Frumpy, but I was not referring to you. You are just a sideshow.

The real problem here is our need to finally come to terms with invasive spying and the rights of the people versus government. Having served for about 70 sessions in 24 months as a Deputy Foreperson of a Federal Criminal Grand Jury, I lost my confidence in the Department of Justice, and now fear them.

I was astonished at their political mission and their genuinely-petty actions, in those Bush Years.
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2017
@STOLEN VALOR LIAR-bully
but I was not referring to you
another blatant lie?
really?

so... who were you referring to that has "to hide in the woods and supply your own power" and also served in the military?

especially since you've repeatedly said this same lie over and over regarding myself only...

were ya talking about vietvet?

reported for being a stupid liar who can't read
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2017
Why would someone use these? Ever heard of hacks?

The IoT is going to be a nightmare without development of some great software.

Besides, I want to be eventually self-supporting if necessary, living in earthquake country.

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