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Amazon relinquishes data from Echo that could have dropped eaves on a killing

Murder accused consents to device being examined

We'll have to wait a little longer for a test case on the use of data collected by Amazon's eavesdropper Echo in criminal investigations.

Authorities in Arkansas served a search warrant on Amazon to obtain the data from an Amazon Echo device in a murder that took place in the state in November 2015. Police believe the murder took place at the home of James Bates, who was subsequently charged with first-degree murder. Bates had an Echo in his kitchen. Police were unable to get into Bates' Nexus phone because it was encrypted.

Google searches have been used in evidence for years, but Amazon believed Echo is different. Although Amazon agreed to hand over Bates' Amazon purchase history and preserve the data from Bates' Echo on its servers, it declined to submit that data to the authorities. Amazon argued that the request was too broad, compromised privacy and First Amendment rights, and failed to meet the heightened standard required for such a warrant.

Amazon has now abandoned the legal battle because Bates consented for the Echo data to be examined by the state.

Bates had filled his residence with "smart home" equipment including a Nest thermometer, a wireless weather monitor and Honeywell alarm system... and a smart meter. Data from the latter enabled the police to deduce that Bates had used 140 gallons of water between 1am and 3am on the night of the alleged murder, far more than normal. Bates' defence team contends that the meter reading was incorrect, and the spike in water usage took place 12 hours earlier when Bates was filling his hot tub.

Amazon's Echo only responds to wake words such as "Alexa", and Amazon maintains that no other audio is preserved on its servers. But with so many sensors in the home, prosecutions will have a wealth of data to investigate. ®

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