Prosecutors Seek Audio From Amazon Echo

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – Authorities in Arkansas believe a murder defendant’s Amazon Echo may contain audio evidence of the night his friend was found dead in a hot tub, but Amazon refuses to comply with a search warrant from police investigating the case.

Amazon said it objects to “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands,” and have so far blocked prosecutors from any content information that the Echo device belonging to James Andrew Bates may hold.

Bates, 32, of Bentonville, has denied that he had anything to do with the murder 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.

The Echo, Amazon’s top holiday seller this year, is a cylindrical wireless speaker and voice command device capable of voice interaction, music playback, providing information like news, sports and weather, and controlling smart-home features.

It is also designed to respond to the “wake” word, either “Alexa” or “Amazon” and records what the user says to their cloud service.

“It is believed that these records are retained by Amazon.com and that they are evidence related to the case under investigation,” the August search warrant says.

Investigators say Bates’ Echo device was streaming music the night of the murder throughout the home, including the back patio, and could contain additional evidence related to the case.

Amazon twice refused to turn over any audio data, but did share Bates’ account holder information and purchase history.

Amazon spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall declined to comment on the Bentonville case specifically, but said in a statement to Courthouse News that the company “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,” Pearsall said.

According to Amazon’s guidelines for law enforcement, the company distinguishes between “content and non-content information.”

“We do not produce content information in response to subpoenas. We may produce non-content and content information in response to valid and binding search warrants,” it says.

Bates’ next hearing is scheduled for March 17. He is currently out on $350,000 bail.

Amazon says the Echo topped this year’s best-seller list and has sold millions worldwide. It retails for $179.99.

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