The issue of who can access information stored on your electronic devices has become increasingly controversial in the last year, with authorities obtaining search warrants to unlock smartphones for everyone in an office building, courts ruling that police can force smartphone users to give up their devices’ passcodes, and federal lawmakers trying to force weakened encryption on consumers. Now, police investigating a homicide are hoping to get a look under the hood of Amazon’s Echo speaker to see if its virtual “Alexa” assistant might have recorded evidence of a murder.
CNET, citing The Information (subscription only), reports that police in Bentonville, AR, filed search warrants to Amazon requesting any information that may have been recorded by the suspect’s Echo speaker located in a home where a homicide occurred in November 2015.
The police believe that possible Echo recordings from Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, 2015 may provide evidence in the case against a man accused of drowning another man in a hot tub.
While the Echo only records after hearing its wake word, “Alexa,” it is constantly listening for the command. Because of this, police believe that the device may have recorded ambient or background noise at the time of the murder.
“It is believed that these records are retained by Amazon.com and that they are evidence related to the case under investigation,” police wrote in the search warrant.
The Echo’s locally stored data can be deleted by users, but a record of the information is also believed to be kept on Amazon’s servers as a way for the company to improve its voice assistant services.
For now, CNET reports that Amazon has provided police with the suspect’s account information and purchase history, but not the data transmitted from the Echo to Amazon’s servers.
Even if Amazon doesn’t turn over the information, police suggest they have the ability to tap into the speaker’s hardware to access “stamps, audio files, and other data.”
Police investigating the case aren’t just focused on what the Echo may or may not have recorded. CNET reports that the home was well-connected, including a Nest thermostat, Honeywell alarm system, wireless weather monitoring system, and other devices that could provide information.