Amazon Echo Might Be The Key Witness To A Murder

Interesting Engineering

Amazon Echo is a voice-controlled hands-free speaker. To activate Echo,  you just need to say the word "Alexa" and Echo responds instantly. With far-field voice recognition, Echo can hear you ask a question from any direction.

In other words, with seven built in microphones and its beam forming technology, it can hear you from across the room even while music is playing at the background. By connecting to Alexa Voice Service, Echo instantly manages playing music, providing information, news, sports scores, weather, and much more.  Seriously much more – even it might have been witnessed a murder.

Arkansas authorities are investigating the death of a man whose body they found in a hot tub at his friend’s home. They think the suspect’s Amazon Echo might have witnessed to what happened at the time of the murder.

Amazon Echo Might Be The Key Witness To A Murder[Image Source : Flickr]

Can A Smart Speaker Solve A Murder ?

The trail started last year on 22 November 2015 in Bentonville, Arkansas. The authorities found the body of Victor Collins floating in a hot tub inside his friend James Andrew Bates' house.

Later, Bates was charged with murder, but then was assumed innocent until proven otherwise. He was arrested in February and is presently free on a $350,000 bond. Bates will go on trial in March 2017.

Often police collect computer or smartphone data from a crime scene as a virtual witness. However, it is the first-time authorities are trying to attain data from a smart speaker.

Someone present on the night of Collins' death recalled hearing music through the device. This development caused Bates' Amazon Echo to enter into the murder mystery.

Amazon Refuses To Hand Over Data As Evidence

As the speaker was at the crime scene listening to the people around it, authorities contemplate that it might have overheard something relevant to the case. Especially, the prosecutors are trying to find any evidence to support their hypothesis that Bates strangled Collins and left him in the hot tub, through the data from Bates’ Amazon Echo smart speaker.

However, Amazon is refusing to hand over the data as evidence. Amazon's spokesperson Kinley Pearsall declined to comment specifically on the Arkansas case but said in a statement that - "Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand." Moreover, Amazon also emphasizes that Echo only records data when it hears its 'wake word' – "Alexa" or "Amazon". As soon as it completes the given task, Echo stops recording.

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However, the authorities want the data in order to make sure nothing was overheard. Also, they claim that collecting virtual evidence is just a part of the investigation. Therefore, it should be turned over immediately as a part of the search warrant.

“It is a search warrant for a new device, but the legal concept is old as Methuselah," says Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith to the Associated Press. Smith compared his request to the standard warrants tat involve seeking out for the cellphone calls and message histories or tracking a user's location.

So far, authorities could only obtain basic subscriber and account information.

People Can't Agree on Whether Amazon is Doing The Right Thing or Not?

"Amazon will say it's for privacy reasons, but I don't believe they have a legal leg to stand on," said Smith to Eliott C. McLaughlin and Keith Allen of CNN.

According to Nuala O'Connor, from the Centre for Democracy and Technology (a civil-liberties non-profit), the problem is that gathering a bunch of tech data like this to make a case could lead to law enforcement agencies making incorrect assumptions about a person's behavior.

“That's where we're going to get into issues of circumstantial evidence," told O’Connor to the Associated Press. Bates’ defense attorney, Kimberly Weber, claims that a gadget designed to make life easier 'shouldn’t be used against you'.

On the other hand, according to Joel Reidenberg, an expert from Fordham University's Centre for Law and Information Policy, told CNN that, it's first such case he's seen, but he isn't surprised that smart speakers are already the subject of a court battle.

It's interesting to think that Alexa might be able to state against a user in the court of law. Moreover, this case will set a benchmark on how law enforcement uses other smart home technologies in the future.

Watch the video of Amazon Echo here:

Sources: CNN, Sciencealert

Featured Image Source: Amazon

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