BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot were popular Christmas gifts in 2016, but some privacy advocates are warning they could be used by law enforcement to gather data about you and your family.
Prosecutors in Benton County, Arkansas, have issued a search warrant to Amazon for data from an Echo device belonging to murder suspect James Andrew Bates.
So far, Amazon is refusing to cooperate.
“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” a press release from the online retail giant states. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
Echo and Echo Dot are digital assistants that answer questions from owners who use voice commands to “wake up” the devices. One typical word is “Alexa.” The devices are tied to Amazon’s computer cloud. Supposedly, the only information within the home that is stored is what is said following the word prompt.
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Investigators want the Echo data in order to get more information about the mysterious death of Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates’ bathtub in Bentonville, Ark., last November. Amazon might have recordings of sounds from Bates’ home, the search warrant alleges.
Attorney Kimberly Weber is representing Bates and opposes the use of the data in court.
“You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us,” Weber said, according to The Information.
Bates had a number of such gadgets in his home, including a smart water meter that shows he used 140 gallons of water from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., police say.
Police seized Bates’ Echo but allege that there is more information stored in the cloud.
Echo also allows a person to control home automation devices, such as lights and the thermostat. Additionally, a person can request news and information from Echo.
Lynn Terwoerds, executive director of the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security and Risk Management, told USA Today that devices like Echo would not benefit police.
“The myth we must fight against with Echo is that it’s constantly listening in on you — it’s not,” she said. “I understand that law enforcement would have an interest in any information that could help in a murder investigation, but it can be argued that this data would be of very limited use as compared to individual privacy rights,” she said.
Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said that to protect privacy, “there should be clear legal standards established for law enforcement access.”
“And manufacturers should adopt techniques for data minimization and data deletion,” Rotenberg said. “Devices that retain data will be the targets not only of law enforcement officials but also criminal hackers.”
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