Amazon’s digital brain Alexa is an astute listener, and police in Bentonville, Ark., are seeking her help to build a murder case, but the company doesn’t appear to be cooperating.
According to a report from The Information, Bentonville police issued a warrant requiring Amazon to hand over audio recordings and other records for an Echo belonging to the suspect, James Andrew Bates. Bates is scheduled to go on trial for murder next year after Victor Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub last November.
Since Alexa and other digital assistants listen for “wake up words,” police are hoping that someone involved in the situation either intentionally or accidentally activated the device, creating an audio record of that moment.
Amazon reportedly declined to release voice recordings for Bates’ Echo device. The company did provide information on Bates’ account and purchases, and police were able to get some information off his speaker.
Amazon said in a statement 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.”
Police have used other Internet of Things devices to gather evidence in the case. A connected water meter shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1 and 3 a.m. the night of the alleged murder. Police claim that Bates hosed down his patio and hot tub in order to hide evidence.
This case is the latest battle between law enforcement and big tech companies over data privacy. Apple’s refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist during last year’s attack in San Bernardino, Calif. is perhaps the most high-profile example of this tug-of-war between tech giants and governments. Apple argued that decrypting the phone’s data and breaking into it would weaken security for all users. Apple and the FBI were heading towards a trial earlier this year until a third party emerged to help the FBI successfully hack the phone.
Microsoft has found itself in several disputes with the U.S. Department of Justice over user privacy. One involves emails police demanded in a 2013 search warrant for a drug-trafficking investigation. Those files were stored at one of Microsoft’s data centers in Ireland, so Microsoft refused to turn over the emails, arguing they fall outside the investigators’ jurisdiction. Earlier this year, Microsoft also challenged a provision of U.S. law that lets government agencies prevent tech companies from informing customers when investigators seek access to emails and other cloud data.