Judge wants to use “Alexa” as evidence in murder trial

by Miles Warren

Alexa, can you solve this murder?

A New Hampshire judge overseeing a double murder trial has called on Amazon to release data from an Amazon Echo that was present during the crime. The judge is asking for partial records of the device, meaning that he is only seeking information that is relevant to the trial.

Amazon itself considers the recordings to be customer information and is refusing to release the recordings “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” This means that if the prosecution doesn’t obtain a warrant of some kind, Amazon will not willingly release the recordings. It should be noted that it’s possible that the Echo did not record anything about the murder , but we’ll never know for sure unless Amazon releases the information.

Amazon has a history of resisting attempts by the legal system to obtain data as evidence. Back in 2015, prosecutors similarly tried to get recordings from an Amazon Echo present during a murder. Amazon called upon their First Amendment rights to protect their data but eventually relented (the recordings ended up not being enough evidence to convict the suspect).

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Over 39 million Americans have smart speakers in their homes. With so many smart speakers installed at home and in the workplace, some experts say these devices normalize the feeling of never being alone.

Though Amazon’s official stance is that Echo devices don’t record any sound until they hear the “wake” word (which on their devices is “Alexa”), we can never truly know if they are recording additional information. This gives Amazon a treasure trove of data, which is incredibly useful to them as they fine-tune their marketing algorithms to target specific people and get them to buy more stuff. And yet, Amazon refuses to release a tiny bit of that information that could potentially put a dangerous murderer behind bars. Again, the prosecutors aren’t requesting a detailed history of all recorded data on the Echo device, just the recordings of the night of the murder.

Amazon isn’t the only tech giant that withholds its data from the law. In 2015, Apple famously refused to unencrypt data from an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters for the FBI. Reactions to Apple’s decision were highly polarizing, with most tech giants like Twitter, Microsoft, and Facebook supporting Apple. Many feared that if Apple gave in and created FBI-exclusive iPhone encryption software, that they would abuse its power. In this case, the FBI was looking to access the shooter’s entire phone, while in the New Hampshire case the prosecution is only looking for recordings from the night of the murder.

What do you think Amazon should do? Let us know!

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