Amazon Abandons Fight Over Echo Audio

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – A murder defendant in Arkansas has agreed to Amazon’s release of audio from his Echo smart speaker that prosecutors believe may reveal clues about the night his friend was found dead in a hot tub.

For months, Amazon fought back requests from prosecutors for the audio evidence, saying in court documents last month that information stored on the Echo device is protected by the First Amendment and customer privacy rights.

But the online retail giant dropped its legal challenge Friday when murder defendant James Andrew Bates allowed Amazon to hand over recordings from his Echo to state prosecutors, according to a stipulation and consent order signed by Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren on Monday.

Amazon spokesman Adam Sohn declined to comment on the case Monday.

Bates, 32, of Bentonville, has denied that he had anything to do with the death of Victor Collins, a friend who had been drinking at Bates’ residence before he was found face down in the hot tub on Nov. 22, 2015.

Collins’ death was ruled a homicide and evidence of a struggle and clean-up of the crime scene led authorities to charge Bates with first-degree murder in February 2016.

The Amazon Echo, a cylindrical wireless speaker and voice command device, is designed to respond to the “wake” word, either “Alexa” or “Amazon,” and records what the user says to their cloud service.

The consent order requires Amazon to release recordings made during a 48-hour window between Nov. 21-22, 2015, “created as a result of interactions with an Amazon Echo device owned by the defendant and located in his residence.”

Prosecutors said in an August search warrant that they believe the recordings are evidence related to the case.

Prior to Monday’s order, Amazon had released Bates’ accountholder information and purchase history, but said it objected to “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands.”

A hearing set for Wednesday on Amazon’s motion to quash the search warrant has been cancelled.

Bates is currently out on $350,000 bail.