The way that Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant is ready to respond to your queries is that Echo speakers are always listening for the hotword that wakes them up. In other words, Amazon is listening, in part, to your conversations, and sometimes weird accidents happen. But because your Echo is listening, and because they do send recordings of your queries back to Amazon, prosecutors in a case want Amazon to make data from a particular smart speaker accessible to them.
A judge found their case compelling enough to order Amazon to hand over any audio recorded on the Amazon Echo belonging to Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pelligrini, who were both found dead with multiple stab wounds in January 2017.
The main suspect is 36-year-old Timothy Verrill, Business Insider reports, who pleaded not guilty to the crimes and awaits trial in May 2019. The Echo was found at the house where the women were discovered, with police seizing the device after searching the place. The prosecutors believe there may be recordings between January 27th and 29th, 2017, when the murders occurred.
“Investigators believe Sullivan was attacked in the kitchen of 979 Meaderboro Road where the Echo was located, and prosecutors believe there is probable cause to believe there is evidence on the Echo, such as audio recordings of the attack and events that followed it,” prosecutors said in court documents per CBS Boston.
Amazon told NBC News that it won’t release any customer information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.”
This is the second time Amazon has had to deal with such a matter. The previous case where investigators wanted to inspect Echo data for evidence that could corroborate suspicions of murder occurred in 2015. An Arkansas police officer died in a hot tub, and Amazon initially refused to comply with the request. Amazon handed over the data upon consent from the Echo owner, but the speaker didn’t provide any fruitful evidence. The charge was later dismissed.