December 27, 2016

PRIVACY: Police seek Amazon Echo data in murder case.

Amazon’s Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates’ account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it’s unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it’s not uncommon for the IoT gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

It’s unclear from this story whether Amazon could have gotten the data but declined to do so, or if the data was encrypted in such a way that the company could not have retrieved it even had they wanted to. If it’s the former, then Amazon could be in legal trouble for failing to comply with a warrant — and Echo customers might want to think twice about having an “always on” device networked to Amazon’s servers.

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