Prosecutors in Arkansas believe that information gathered by an Amazon Echo device could potentially provide evidence in an ongoing murder trial, and are pressing Amazon to give them data from the device belonging to the defendant.
Authorities are seeking the data to aid in their investigation of the alleged murder of Victor Collins, whose body was found in a hot tub at the home of his friend, James Bates on November 22, 2015. Bates was charged with Collins' murder, said Nathan Smith, the prosecuting attorney in Bentonville, Arkansas, during an interview with "Good Morning America" that aired today.
"Like any other defendant he is innocent until proven guilty," Smith said of Bates. "The issue that I think that has drawn national attention is the search warrant for Amazon echo device."
"We’re still in process of trying to obtain any info on that Echo device. I don’t know if it has anything on it or not," Smith said. "The purpose of doing the search warrant is to determine if there is information on that Echo device that would either be helpful in the prosecution of Mr. Bates, or be exculpatory for Mr. Bates, and we as law enforcement have an obligation to find out what’s on that device to ensure that justice is done."
Smith said that the request for data has "been spun as an issue of privacy."
But, he says, "It really doesn’t have anything to do with that. In our legal system, law enforcement can search property by lawfully obtaining a search warrant."
He added, "The only thing novel about is it’s a relatively new device."
The Amazon Echo device, which has both speakers and a microphone, can respond to a user's voice commands or questions after it is activated with the wake word "Alexa," according to Amazon's website for the product. A user may also review past voice interactions with Alexa, which are stored in the device's settings.
Amazon pushed back against releasing Bates' information, saying in a statement that it "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 added.
Bates' defense attorney Kimberly Weber said in an interview with "GMA" she thinks Amazon "is going to take a very strong stance and do everything in its power to prevent this from being released because it wants to make sure that its customers are comfortable with its product.”
Weber also argued that Amazon Echo data is not always reliable, and could easily be used out of context.
“My client is innocent," Weber said. "I am not concerned at all with the information being released, but I have a stand and my client is united in my stand, that we are going to do everything we can to protect his privacy and the privacy of others.”