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The popular digital home assistant, the Amazon Echo, affectionately known as Alexa, is being asked by law enforcement to help solve the murder of a Bentonville, Arkansas man. Well, Alexa isn't really being asked anything. Rather, police have obtained a warrant requesting Amazon to turn over information and data that the murder suspect's device may contain regarding the murder.
Police believe that the device may have collected some critical data as a result of the device's "always listening" programming. The Amazon Echo is equipped with several microphones that are always on (so long as the device is on). Those microphones are constantly listening for commands. When the device hears one of the commands, it sends an audio recording to a server where it is transcribed and saved, and data is sent back confirming the response or action the device should take.
What Are the Police Looking For?
The Bentonville police are hopeful that the information stored on the device or the servers may contain some useful information regarding the events of the night of the murder. Because the Echo is always listening, it is possible that at some point during the night of the murder, it may have recorded a snippet of audio and sent it to the server to be transcribed.
While reports explain that the Echo is unlikely to contain conclusive evidence, the possibility that it contains some evidence that could be used to support or corroborate other evidence is entirely possible. For instance, it could very well destroy an alibi or be used to rebut other evidence presented by the defense.
Privacy Rights of the Accused
While Amazon has routinely sided with other Silicon Valley companies when it comes to the privacy rights of its users, the "always listening" aspect of the Echo makes this relatively new territory for manufacturers of IoT (Internet of Things) products. Amazon has taken the position that the information it collects should not be disclosed, however, at this time it is unclear how far Amazon is willing to take this fight, especially in defense of a suspected murderer. However, Amazon has taken on the IRS to protect their customers in the past.
Clearly, Amazon wants users to feel that they are not giving up their right to privacy when they purchase and use their device.