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Could Amazon’s Echo be a Witness in a Murder Case?

February 10, 2017, on Violent Crimes |

Today, many people voluntarily bring digital devices into their homes. Many of these devices regularly record or track the conversations and activities of the device owners.  This is having profound consequences.

As recording devices become more pervasive and more common in a wide variety of different settings, privacy is eroding.  A device you have in your home could potentially be subpoenaed in order for evidence on that device to be used in a criminal case against you. You need to know what your rights are in this situation and you should talk with a New York City federal criminal defense attorney to find out what options you have available to you.

Could Amazon Echo's Recorded Data Be Used as Evidence in a Murder Case?

Recently, a case arose in which prosecutors were seeking evidence from a common electronic device found in many homes: the Amazon Echo.

The Echo is a speaker that serves as a digital assistant. It is continually listening to hear whether its owners make a request of it, which they do by saying “Alexa” or “Echo.”  As soon as the Echo is triggered by the designated “wake” word, the Echo transmits to Amazon a recording of the ambient background noise from before and after the word was spoken.

Prosecutors want access to the transmitted data to try to obtain evidence in a case in which a man was found dead in a hot tub. The prosecutors have asked Amazon to provide two days’ worth of information, including recordings from the day of the murder and the days preceding it. Prosecutors have also asked for text records and transcribed records. A state judge signed a search warrant for the physical Echo device, but much of the information that prosecutors need is not stored internally on the device but is instead stored in Amazon's cloud.

Amazon has objected to demands for data stored in its cloud which was recorded from the Echo, and was trying to negotiate with the prosecutors who were seeking information for the murder case.  However, this is an issue likely to come up again, and there are likely to be many situations not just with Echo but also with other recording devices.

Many people who own these devices will be surprised to discover they do not necessarily have an expectation of privacy when the devices recorded them in their own homes. Device owners are not necessarily guaranteed privacy since they willingly communicated with Amazon and since there is no privileged relationship with Amazon like there would be with a priest, lawyer, or someone else who is expected to keep secrets.

When a question arises regarding whether digitally recorded evidence can be used against you, it will become very important to ensure you have an experienced attorney making arguments on why your privacy should be protected. The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC defense lawyers can help you to try and keep as much of your confidential information as possible from being used against you if you are accused of a crime.

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