During the course of a first-degree murder investigation in Bentonville, Arkansas, police noticed that their main suspect — a man named James Andrew Bates — owned an Amazon Echo. Realizing that the Echo is ‘always listening’ for the wake word, authorities there are now focused on determining if Amazon’s virtual assistant happened to record any pertinent information that might help them pursue their case.
According to a report from The Information, authorities in Bentonville secured a warrant demanding that Amazon hand over any audio logs on its servers from Bates’ Echo. Amazon refused to hand over any information it may or may not have had on its servers, and instead opted to give police Bates’ Amazon purchase history on the off-chance that it might help.
What’s particularly interesting about the case is that the Amazon Echo wasn’t the only Internet of Things device Bates had in his home. The report adds that Bates’ connected water meter revealed that upwards of 140 gallons of water were used on the night that the victim, one Victor Collins, was murdered and found dead in Bates’ hot tub. Police naturally believe that this points to Bates’ effort to clear up and wash away any evidence of the crime. Of particular interest is that detectives managed to find out that Bates’ level of water usage on the night of the crime had only been reached once before, back in 2013.
Detectives observed the rim of the hot tub and the patio had been sprayed down with water and two hot tub head cushions and three hot tub knobs were lying on the ground nearby, the affidavit states. One of the head cushions appeared to have diluted blood spots on it, according to the affidavit. Investigators also found watered down blood spots on the sides of the hot tub and another large area of blood spatter on the hot tub cover, the affidavit states.
Bates’ attorney argues that individuals have a right to privacy in their own home and that there is a “big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us.”
While not exactly similar to Apple’s legal tussle with the FBI, this case raises a number of interesting issues concerning the growing popularity of IoT devices and the degree to which tech companies will take measures to protect sensitive user information.
Update: Amazon has issued an official statement on the matter. It reads as follows: “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course”