In Bentonville, Arkansas, 31-year-old James Andrew Bates has been charged with the first-degree murder of Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates' hot tub in November 2015. To help solve the case, police want access to the murder suspect's Amazon Echo recordings, which has raised privacy concerns around the country. Amazon is pushing back against the request, which may be the first of its kind.
The victim's body had cuts and bruises, and blood was found in Bates' hot tub. A medical examiner ruled that there was likely a fight between Bates and Collins, which ended in Collins being strangled and drowned, KSFM reported.
According to The Information, authorities issued a warrant for the audio on Bates' Amazon Echo. While Amazon did provide Bates' account details to police, the company didn't provide all the Echo's information logged on its servers. Police have gotten some data from the speaker, but just how much information they were able to get isn't clear yet.
The Echo speaker, which can play music and provide information and more, is wanted for the investigation because, according to the search warrant, "The Amazon Echo device is constantly listening for the 'wake' command of 'Alexa' or Amazon,' and records any command, inquiry, or verbal gesture given after that point, or possibly at all times without the 'wake word' being issued, which is uploaded to Amazon.com's servers at a remote location."
"That allegation — that the Echo is possibly recording at all times without the “wake word” being issued — is incorrect, according to an Amazon spokesperson. The device is constantly listening but not recording, and nothing is streamed to or stored in the cloud without the wake word being detected."
Bates' lawyer Kimberly Weber, like many other privacy advocates, has a problem with the warrant. "You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us," Weber told The Information.
"I've got an innocent client, so why are they attempting to get this information, which will really have no effect on our case?" Weber told KSFM. "What they are trying to do is rather novel, but it's a deep invasion of privacy."
Amazon explained their stance in a statement: "Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course."
According to KSFM, Bates' smart devices have already been used in the case. Using the smart water meter at Bates' home, police found that the alleged killer had used a significant amount of water between 1 and 3 a.m. (when the murder likely occurred), which investigators believe was used by Bates to clean up the crime scene.
Bates faces a trial in 2017.