Amazon is resisting calls to hand over recordings from an Amazon Echo speaker as part of a murder investigation, in a first-of-its-kind case.
There has always been some concern at the "always on" listening abilities of the Alexa home assistant that powers the Echo range, but this is the first time that officials have suggested that recordings could be monitored by law enforcement agencies, with two search warrants issued at the end of 2016.
The case involves an Arkansas man, Victor Collins who was found floating face up in a friend's hot tub. The friend, James Bates, is suspected of, and denies, first-degree murder.
Prosecutors believe that, as music has been streamed from the Echo at the suspected time of death, Amazon's servers could hold vital evidence from the listening capabilities of Alexa.
In theory, no recordings should exist as Alexa only records information from a fraction of a second before it hears its wake word (usually "Alexa") until it has enough to send to Amazon servers for processing. Everything else is simultaneously recorded and deleted from the device within a second without ever being transmitted.
Amazon's lawyers filed a motion last week that refused access to the data on the basis of First Amendment and privacy implications, arguing that the State has not produced compelling evidence that to do otherwise would help settle the case.
Amazon told the Associated Press: "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,"
Prosecutors want to check if Alexa could have been triggered by mistake, with a synonym like "put down that hacksaw" or "what are you pointing things at me for" (we know that sounds very crass, but that's a pretty accurate presumption of what they'd be looking for) and therefore something vital could pivot the case, hidden away on servers.
The problem is that this would be a Pandora's Box in privacy terms, and it's not one that Amazon would rush to open as it would have far-reaching privacy precedent across a whole range of technology that uses the cloud or voice recording.
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