Will Amazon Echo help investigators to solve a murder?

Amazon Alexa Echo

Officials in a current case under investigation have issued a warrant to learn what the device “heard.”

The Amazon Echo is making headlines not only because it was the e-commerce giant’s top selling item during the holiday season this year. It may also provide evidence to investigators in a murder case.

Bentonville, Arkansas police have issued a warrant to Amazon, requesting the Echo’s data.

The investigators are hoping that the Amazon Echo was “listening” at the time of the murder of Victor Collins. Prosecutors would use the connected device’s data in their case against suspected murderer James Andrew Bates. The first degree murder charge is from a case in November 2015. At that time, Collins was found in Bates’ hot tub, strangled and drowned.

Bates said that Collins and two other friends were invited to his place that evening. They were all there to watch a football game. The friends were Owen McDonald and Sean Henry. According to Bates, he went to bed around 1am, though his friends were still there. Collins and McDonald had been in the hot tub, having a drink.

Investigators are hoping that the Amazon Echo may have detected data to confirm or invalidate the story.

Amazon EchoBates claims to have woken up several hours later, only to find Collins dead, face-down in the hot tub water. That said, McDonald claims that he had left around 12:30am, before Bates went to bed. That timing was confirmed by McDonald’s wife.

Bates’ mobile phone record showed that several texts and calls were placed to a woman, Bates’ father and other friends (which included McDonald) as well as to a restaurant called the Flying Fish. None of the calls were completed and Bates claims that they were accidental pocket-dials.

Among Bates’ many connected devices is the Amazon Echo. Police records show that the device was used that night to stream music through Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant. Alexa is an “always listening” service as it uses its many microphones to wait for a “wake word” to activate it so it can receive commands. To receive commands and react appropriately, Alexa sends a user’s audio to the cloud, including a fraction of a second before the command or wake word. It is that data sought by the investigators. At the time of the writing of this article, Amazon had yet to comply.

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