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Amazon Hands Over Echo, Alexa To Aid Murder Investigation

Two weeks after Amazon filed a motion claiming that turning over information stored on an Echo speaker located inside a murder suspect’s home would be a violation of privacy, the company rid itself of that argument, after the suspect in the case consented to the release of the information.

Amazon turned over the information to authorities in Bentonville, AR, last week after the defendant in the murder case consented to the disclosure of any such recordings made by the smart speaker.

As a result, Amazon’s motion to quash the warrant — claiming that information or recorded by the device is protected by the First Amendment — is moot, a March 3 filing notes.

The company became involved in the murder investigation in December when the police issued search warrants requesting any information that may have been recorded by the suspect’s Echo speaker located in a home where a murder occurred in November of 2015.

Investigators wanted to know if the device’s “Alexa” virtual assistant had recorded any evidence of the murder. The police were inclined to believe that possible Echo recordings from Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, 2015 may provide evidence in the case against a man accused of drowning another man in a hot tub.

While the Echo only records after hearing its name, “Alexa,” it is said to be “constantly listening for the command.” Due to this, authorities believe that the speaker may have picked up ambient or background noise at the time of the murder.

Amazon previously provided police with the suspect’s account information and purchase history, but not the data transmitted from the Echo to Amazon’s servers, as the company refused to provide other data from the device, filing a motion to quash the warrant unless the court found that the state had met heightened burden for compelled production of such materials.

Amazon argued that the recordings made by the speaker were protected speech under the First Amendment and that information potentially contained on the device would have revealed too much about the user and their interests. In short, it would have opened up a can of worms for Amazon, much like it would have for Apple throughout the San Bernadino mass shootings.

Amazon has decided to change their mind, however, eventually handing over the device and its recordings to police. We will wait and see what happens with the case, and plan to provide any updates when unfolded!

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