The case, which led local police to ask Amazon for cloud-stored recordings from the defendant’s Echo connected home hub, hit a roadblock when the company refused to provide the info. The accused killer, James Andrew Bates, is now willing to turn his data over.
More specifically, Bates (who has plead ‘not guilty’ to first-degree murder) advised Amazon it was all right to give up the data. The e-commerce giant initially said that the request from the Arkansas police lacked a compelling argument. Paperwork filed Monday gave Amazon a Friday deadline to relinquish the requested info.
Bates is accused of killing Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. With nothing solid to go on, detectives asked Amazon to provide all stored recordings from Bates’ Echo. Amazon pushed back, noting the recordings fell under First Amendment privilege, and were essentially the property of Bates – even though they were stored on Amazon’s servers.
There are a couple of ways to look at this. Bates says he was asleep during the time of death that coroners assert for Collins, so recordings might clear him of any wrongdoing. Unfortunately for this case, Echo isn’t always listening, so unless someone yelled “Hey, Alexa” around the time Collins died, it’s unclear what prosecutors may glean from Echo recordings.
More critical minds might say Bates knows the Echo in his home wasn’t triggered when he killed Collins, and will attempt to lean on those recordings as proof of his innocence.
Tech companies have a fairly standard rigamarole that government agencies must navigate in order to get a user’s data, so it’s unsurprising Amazon would push back against giving up Bates’ data. In the EFF’s 2015 ‘Who Has Your Back?’ report, Amazon only fell short on telling users when a government agency requested data and disclosing its policy on data retention. As the ‘data retention’ qualification for the EFF’s report notes: “This category awards companies that disclose how long they maintain data about their users that isn’t accessible to the user—specifically including logs of users’ IP addresses and deleted content—in a form accessible to law enforcement.”
Amazon doesn’t say how long it holds onto Echo recordings, but does allow users to delete them as needed. Unfortunately, Bates’ willingness to provide his data also means this fight has been pushed off to another day, not resolved. It may not be because of a murder in Arkansas, but a government agency will come knocking for Echo data again at some point.