Police To Amazon Alexa: “Did You Witness A Murder?”

Amazon is pushing back against the demand of an Arkansas prosecutor for information on a murder suspect from the Echo smart speaker. This is the start of yet another legal battle over American privacy rights in which investigators are demanding tech-based evidence. Will the online retail giant help the police find the murderer?

Why police are suspicious

Former Georgia police officer Victor Collins was found dead in a backyard hot tub in November 2015 at the Bentonville, Arkansas home of acquaintance James Andrew Bates. When Bates contacted police at 9:30 a.m., he said it was an accidental drowning. Bates claimed he had gone to bed and had left Collins and another man behind in the tub. However, police is determined that Collins died after a fight and was strangled and held underwater, notes Ars Technica.

Bentonville Police investigators believe that Bates was the only person on scene at that time. Now, according to media reports, investigators had served a search warrant to Amazon in hopes of getting testimony from a possible witness – the Amazon Echo (with the Alexa digital assistant) which was streaming music near the hot tub when police arrived at the scene.

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Investigators were immediately suspicious when they found that the water of the hot tub was tinted red. They found that Collins had injuries from a struggle, including a bloodied nose, swollen lips, and cuts on an eyelid. In addition, there were signs of blood on the sides of the hot tub. According to the water meter record from the city’s utility department, 140 gallons of water had been used between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. on the night of the incident, notes Ars Technica.

Amazon hasn’t provided all the information

Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith hopes that the Amazon Echo, which plays music, answers user’s questions, connects to other smart devices and reads news, will provide information on how the man died in 31-year-old James Bates’ hot tub.

According to Ars Technica, police have presented a search warrant to Amazon requesting anything that the Echo might have recorded that night. According to a warrant return affidavit filed by police, on December 4, 2015, Amazon “eventually complied with the warrants on February 8, 2016, but only supplied a portion of what was requested in both search warrants.”

Kimberly Weber, Bates’ defense attorney, says there is nothing useful on the device and applauds the e-commerce giant for protecting the privacy of her client. Presently, Bates is free on a $350,000 bond. A discovery hearing in Bates’ case is scheduled for March.