Amazon denies police request for Echo voice recordings in murder case

According to a report from The Information (opens in new tab), police in Bentonville, Arkansas recently issued a warrant for Amazon to release recordings from the Echo owned by a man set to go on trial for first-degree murder. Amazon declined to give Echo-related recordings to the authorities, but did offer some account details and purchase history related to the account — which in some ways could prove to be more valuable.

Police indicated that they were able to take some data from the Echo locally, but did not confirm what all was able to be retrieved. Considering that the Echo relies on a constant internet connection to provide its smarts, chances are the real treasure trove would only lie on Amazon's servers. Beyond that, the Echo is unlikely to have recorded anything incriminating, as aside from some occasional miscues it is only recording once it hears the trigger words of "Amazon," "Alexa" or "Echo" and within relatively close proximity.

Data from other smart home devices could be far more interesting than Echo recordings.

Other types of data, like that apparently retrieved from the suspect's various IoT devices, could be far more interesting to the case if they are permitted to be used. Smart plugs, light bulbs, automated home devices and of course cameras could prove to be difference makers in this case (and far beyond). For example, in this particular case, a smart water meter showed incredibly high water usage prior to the time the victim was found dead at the home.

When it comes to law enforcement attempting to build the strongest case, it isn't surprising that the local authorities would do everything possible to obtain evidence. Issuing warrants for all data collected by smart home devices is in no way surprising — the only question is whether or not these companies can be (or will be) compelled to hand it over, and if the courts eventually find it legal and admissible in court.

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Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I really like using the Echo and Google Home. I would be disappointed if these recordings were allowed in court, but not surprised. When you fill your home full of microphones and carry one in your pocket all day, you have to expect the worst.
  • I understand the premise behind your disappointment if recordings could be used in court. But in capital cases such as this, everything and anything should allowed if such devices exist in and around the premises. If you can use a video camera to capture a burglar breaking into your house and obtain a conviction, why can't you use IoT's recordings in the same manner? There's no difference. Amazon should hand everything over permissible by law to the authorities. Period. Before the privacy police strike back, NO!!! They should not be able to "hack" into said device to listen in on you. I do believe in privacy dangnabbit! But in a case where a capital crime has been committed, and said recordings exist, then, at that time, privacy has been vacated and therefore be used in the court of law.
  • No difference? Um...Video, clearly shows not only the intent and the ACT of the crime being committed, but who did it! With IoT's you are only getting voice or data info which cannot show intent or the act of a crime being committed. So please, how can you prove that the murder occured because a IoT device shows a spike in water usage prior to the crime being committed? Um, he was found dead in his hot tub. It is recommended to drain and refill your hot tub every 3-4 months. That would most certainly cause a spike in the IoT water meter, wouldn't you agree? See the problem.
  • If 10 people can identify someone in a video, and if 10 people can identify someone's voice, there is no difference. But I'm not specifically talking about this particular crime.
  • Again, video proves identity, the act and intent. Voice, easily manipulated, proves nothing other than who the person. It does NOT prove a crime was committed, nor does it prove YOU committed a crime! I could very easily record YOUR voice and use that to commit the crime. Does that mean YOU are guilty then? Your logic says YES, since 10 people indentified it as YOUR voice! How is this so hard to understand?
  • It's obvious you have no clue. Go to forensics school then will talk again.
  • You are the one that has no clue! I disproved you not once, but, twice. Try law school and we will talk again!
  • You've proved nothing. You're right. It doesn't prove who the murderer is, BUT it can give a clue as to who was in the house at the time of the murder. Voice forensics is just as good as video forensics.
  • I am certified in digital forensics, and *you* are uninformed.
  • The voice doesn't have to prove anything, just give the local PD enough evidence to pull a warrant. Also, if the lawyers can present that evidence well enough (along with other evidence) to convince a jury, then a conviction will be made. Verdict of guilt is in the hands of the jury, and it's up to the prosecutor to prove it. Both lawyers deserve all the evidence available.
  • Thank you! This is what I was trying to say but just couldn't get it out! If you have people that can identify voices in the house, especially at the time of the murder, then it can give LE enough evidence to pull warrants and find a suspect. Makes it easier.
  • Gator352...Look up Predicate laws for recorded audio. Let me know what you find. I bet it will be VERY similar to what I've stated!
  • demmo86rt....Depends on your state Predicate Laws.
  • If they believe the echo contains evidence of a specific crime and they ask the owner for consent or get a warrant, they can search the echo. If they want to search the Amazon account, they can only get high level account details from Amazon without consent from the account owner. In this case, if that's the deceased, unless he authorized Amazon to release more specific data to the officers of the court prior to his death, they may not have an option but to deny the request.
  • Why would there be any recording? Do these things record 24/7?
  • They're constantly listening for key words like "Alexa, Hey Cortana, Ok Google, Siri" etc. So that means that the microphone is always on. The idea is that it's listening, deciphering, and ignoring your words if they don't match that preset prompt. But in order for it to respond to your voice, the mic has to always be on.
  • So there should be no recordings....
  • You don't give up your rights when you purchase an Amazon Echo.
  • Legally I have an expectation of privacy when I make a phone call. But we all know that isn't true.
  • How is a warranted search giving up your rights?
  • Well I'm a good person and don't go around killing people. So I wouldn't mind having my recordings in court, because I would be innocent.
  • You are ignorant to think innocent people haven't been sent to jail. I assure you innocent poeple who have thought they have nothing to hide, end up cooperating with authorities because they know they are innocent. All of the sudden circumstances started to stack up against them, ie. being a certain place at a certain time. By that time, you are phucked... Regardless of innocence, always have a lawyer present during questioning/inquiries from the police, IMO. They are not there looking out for your best interest.
  • Not to mention that cops have a strong tendency to take what they find and twist it in their favor.
  • also not to mention, the police only care to put someone in jail for the crime. they dont care if its the right someone.
  • Saying you don't need privacy protection because you don't do anything wrong is like saying you don't need first amendment protection because you have nothing to say. These protections are there for when you need it, if you wait until you need it, it will be too late
  • Absolutely this!
  • IF you really are black, police would have a field day getting all your "innocent" recordings and then hanging you with it. So go ahead and continue "not minding". Lesser fools have paid the price for your level of ignorance.
  • Many INNOCENT people have been wrongly convicted of crimes many times, dude.
  • Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters of Walmart, and it's a device from their mortal enemy, Amazon. Funny how that works. And yes, the Bentonville PD may as well have a large W on their uniforms, if you've ever been in a southern town that's extremely indebted to a large company, that's pretty much how it works.
  • So you're saying the reason the police are trying to convict someone accused of murder is because Wal Mart hates Amazon?
  • it sounds even stupider the way you said it!
  • No, no, that's not what I think. I just think it's funny that this happened in the town that Walmart's' hq is located in, and it's an Amazon device. The odds have to be pretty low that this warrant would originate with the Bentonville PD, out of every police department in this country.
  • Why?
  • "Alexa... What is the best way to dispose of a dead body?"
  • Can you think of the number of times we've (all) trolled Siri with this in the past ?!? "Siri, what's the best place to hide a dead body. I've found a number of swamps near your location." When the 4s first came out, it was one of the TOP asked questions according to Apple's servers. Yikes.
  • Instead of an Echo, should have just gotten a parrot.... Wait...
  • The real reason Amazon declined to provide the recordings is because the police requested that they make them compatible with Chromecast Audio so they could be played in court. However if they purchased an Amazon Fire Stick, Amazon would be happy to turn over the recordings.
  • Lol this made me laugh
  • Well this is a warning to all crooks, murderers, and those planning nefarious deeds. If you are going to kill, Rob or otherwise hurt someone , please keep your plans to yourself or speak with acompliants to your crime while you are walking through the woods, on the beach or eating at a burger King far from your home. No sense asking for directions to the person you are going to kill through any smart device. Figure that stuff out on your own.
  • Guys, the NSA listens in on your content and has been doing so for years.
  • Not necessarily. They may have some capability but that doesn't mean that everyone is listened to. And that doesn't justify this.
  • What he said 👆
  • They should ask the Russians.
  • ...or Tsar Trump.
  • "Police indicated that they were able to take some data from the Echo locally, but did not confirm what all was able to be retrieved" What does that sentence mean?
  • It looks like it stores a history of not only the phrase that you asked, but the second before it as well. 3. Can I review what I have asked Alexa?
    Yes, you can review voice interactions with Alexa by visiting History in Settings in the Alexa App. Your interactions are grouped by question or request. Tap an entry to see more detail, provide feedback, or listen to audio sent to the Cloud for that entry by tapping the play icon. Sometimes Alexa may not understand you perfectly, and the translations you see in History may not always reflect exactly what you said (for example, they may be inaccurate or incomplete). You can help us improve your experience by providing feedback on inaccurate translations in History.
  • I believe mostly that keeping Google, Alexa, Cortana, and other artificial intelligences from law enforcement hands is very important. Except.... Maybe for a murder case. If it's proven a murder happened IN the house with an smart device, then I think it should maybe be an exception. But Not give them all history of recordings. Just maybe the recordings of the 1 or 2 weeks leading up to the murder. After all... it's a human life we are talking about here. Otherwise they should definitely be private.
  • I agree with Amazon's stance, but this is analogous to subpoena of browser search history.
  • Agreed. And IMO it's no different from cops searching your house for evidence, papers, fingerprints, weapons. It's all private. Get a court order and treat it the same way. Yes voices can be emulated now but fingerprints, and papers could also be planted. It's the culmination of evidence that convicts not the lack?
  • Wait... They have those recordings? They have said all along that they only get data when the phrase is said. If that's the case, are they implying the murderer or victim said "Alexa" during the crime? That's not super likely, so my concern here isn't that they said "We don't get that data since it never made it to our servers" they seemingly just refused to give the data over... Implying they have those recordings...
  • So, if you're about to be killed, make sure to say "Alexa, Phil has shot me." At least Amazon will know who did it. Does "Alexa, call 911" work?
  • Alexa (Amazon) does store your voice command in the cloud but it is just for a brief moment. You get access such info on the app or web. or the App.
    Click on Settings.
    Scroll down to History (View requests to Alexa), there you will see all your commands/voice recording. You can alway clear voice history command.
  • You either believe in a right to privacy or you don't. You either believe that rights are natural, or you believe they are provided by a benevolent government. I believe rights are natural and inalienable. Having microphones and cameras in my house to monitor and protect MY property is MY business. The recordings are MY property and, I have the right to not incriminate myself. You don't have the right to take my property. That includes my videos and recordings.........Unless I agree to a TOS that gives ownership to Amazon
  • Click bait. Where is the court ordered sopina for the recordings? If police request access to their customers private information, Amazon better deny access. Good job Amazon.
  • Subpoena, not sopina.
  • I may be in the minority here but if I'm murdered or abducted I want Google to give the police everything from my Google home and phone that could possibly help me... Forget privacy
  • Most people wouldn't care if they had to drill a hole in someone's head to pour out the info if the victim was someone close to them...even those bent on privacy and the first amendment.