Amazon has refused to hand over recordings from an Echo smart speaker to US police investigating a murder in Arkansas. Police issued a
warrant to Amazon to turn over recordings and other information associated with the device.
Amazon twice declined to provide the police with the information they requested from the device, although it did provide account information and purchase history.
Although the Echo is known for having always-on microphones to enable its voice-controlled features, the vast majority of the recordings it makes are not saved for longer than the few seconds it takes to determine if a pre-set wake word (usually
Alexa ) has been said. Only if that wake word has been heard does the device's full complement of microphones come on and begin transmitting audio to Amazon.
However the police pursuit of the data suggests there is more of interest up for grabs than Amazon is admitting.
Amazon's reluctance to part with user information fits a familiar pattern. Tech companies often see law enforcement requests for data as invasive and damaging to an industry. It is clearly an issue for sales of a home microphone system if it is easy for
the authorities to grab recordings.
Other devices have also been good data sources for police investigations. Wristwatch-style Fitbit activity trackers have cropped up in a few cases eg for checking alibis against sleep patterns or activity.
A smart water meter has also been used in a murder case as evidence of a blood clean up operation,