Many people received a variety of electronic assistants this holiday season. One such device, the Amazon Echo, dubbed “Alexa,” is now being asked to solve a murder in Arkansas. Criminal defense lawyers are fighting back against the subpoena but the law enforcement agencies are moving forward.
Fortuneandnbsp;is reporting on a recent murder in Arkansas. James Bates has been charged with the murder of a friend of his, who was found dead in his hot tub. Bates contacted the police when he said he found the body of his friend. Now the police investigating the case want to get the data from the digital assistant. They want to see what, if any, evidence the Alexa unit may have recorded of the murder. Law enforcement believes Bates strangled his coworker and friend. They have already taken possession of the unit and are looking to Amazon to gain access to the recordings from it. Amazon has, so far, refused these requests, which are also frowned upon by most local attorneys.
The Amazon Echo is a lot different from other, similar, digital devices. Alexa will respond when people use the word, “Alexa,” the “name” of the digital assistant. When people start a question with that word, the device “wakes up” and deals the query. It can answer questions such as, “Alexa, what time is it?” It can also follow through with requests such as, “Alexa, order more cat litter.” The queries are saved but not on the hardware on the digital assistant itself but on a remove service that is housed by Google and Amazon. This sets it apart from devices such as Google Home.
Police do not expect that Bates said something akin to, “Alexa, what can I do with a body?” but hope the device was woken up accidentally by one of the parties. They hope that the Amazon Echo in question then recorded something that can help the police solve the case. Most criminal defense attorneys who have looked into this oppose the move to get the data.
Amazon spokesperson, Kinley Pearsall, emailed Fortune, “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to over broad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
Bates’ Echo’s voice history has not been released. The night of the murder, it was used to play music near the hot tub where it occurred. There is not a lot of reason to believe there is data on the device that has anything to do with the murder. No one thinks Bates said, “Alexa, how do I strangle someone in a hut tub?” Criminal defense lawyers say this is an interesting case because it may shed light on how the electronic devices we have in our homes and always keep on may be used against individuals.
You would be hard pressed to find an attorney who does not find the implications for this and the growing number of internet of things ot be interesting and germane to the conversation about the growing number of devices many of us have in our homes. Many of these new devices offer a lot of convenience but do have microphones and cameras that can capture a lot of our lives that most people consider to be private, say criminal defense lawyers. It is hard to say how much of the information these devices gather will be admissible in court proceedings.
Court procedure has yet to really deal with issues regarding this new technology. In terms of the Bates’ case, his smart water meter may be the device that hurts his case the most. Between 1:00 am and 3:00 am, 140 gallons of water was used. This is more than is usually used. The allegation is that Bates used his garden hose to clean blood from his deck, which is where all that water went.
Criminal defense lawyers oppose the use of the new devices to incriminate potentially innocent people. But if you are thinking about how to choose a criminal lawyer, you would want one who would fight to keep your devices from sharing your secrets with law enforcement or anyone else.