Amazon is refusing to hand over voice recordings from its Echo speaker to prosecutors hoping to use the IoT data as evidence against the suspect in a murder case.
Many IoT devices collect sensor data about the environment around them and even the smallest details could be used to build a picture of present or past events. As more IoT devices enter consumer homes, that data can be used to understand what led to events such as the tragic murder of Victor Collins.
Mr. Collins was found dead in a friend’s hot tub back in November 2015. His friend, James Andrew Bates, reported finding the body and is the primary suspect but has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.
Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course
Detectives learned that music was streamed into the back garden and believe it was controlled by the Alexa digital assistant on an Amazon Echo speaker. Prosecutors, therefore, are calling on Amazon to hand over any voice recordings made by the device to help understand what happened and use the data as evidence in proceedings.
According to court records, one of Mr. Collins’ eyes and his lips appeared to be swollen and suspected blood spots were found around the rim of the hot tub.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Amazon filed a motion last week asking for the judge to refuse the requests for data to be released from the Echo: "Given the important First Amendment and privacy implications at stake, the warrant should be quashed unless the Court finds that the State has met its heightened burden for compelled production of such materials," its court filings read.
Echo is only supposed to record audio when its wake command is heard to protect the privacy of consumers, but sometimes the device is activated when audio is misheard. This audio is then sent to Amazon’s servers where the data gets interpreted and decides how the device should respond to requests.
"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," the company said in a statement.
The suspect, Mr. Bates, claims to be asleep during the alleged murder. Even direct voice commands made to Echo could identify whether he was awake or if anyone else was present in the household during the early hours of the morning when the murder is expected to have taken place.
Update 07/03: Amazon has agreed to hand over Echo data.
Do you think IoT data should be accessible to prosecutors? Let us know in the comments.
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