Amazon Echo Murder Case

A screenshot of an MSNBC report on the case.

Amazon’s First Amendment fight has ended before it even began. After pushing back against investigators, Amazon eventually relinquished data from an Echo believed to contain vital information pertaining to 2015 murder. Defendant James Bates, on Friday, agreed to allow police to review the information retained on his smart home assistant.

Bates pled not guilty to the murder of Victor Collins of Bentonville, Arkansas, who was found drowned in Bates’ hot tub. The defendant reportedly police he woke up to find Collins dead, and believed the drowning to be accident. Investigators, on the other hand, believe Collins was strangled and drowned – and that Bates’s Amazon Echo could contain information detailing his involvement in the incident.

Police approached Amazon with a warrant for information from the home assistant in February of last year, after Bates was formally charged. Amazon complied and provide a record of transactions, but pushed back against a request to hand over audio data, with a lengthy filing stating:

“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 material.”

Amazon argued that data collected by the Echo’s on-board microphones was not subject to scrutiny by investigators on the case, and that handing over such data would constitute a violation of consumer rights. The first real, Free speechbattle, it seems, will have to wait for another day, however, as Bates himself offered up the information.

Unfortunately, at this time, whatever insight the Echo has to provide is still wrapped up in the ongoing case. We will have to wait until the end of the trial to find out what happened. But beyond the events of the incident, we are sure to learn just how much information the home assistance gathers and saved via its always-on microphones. For Amazon and other hardware makers, this case is likely just the beginning of a large conversation around privacy and First Amendment rights regarding the evermore ubiquitous home assistants.
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