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“Alexa, Tell the Police What You Know”

At this point, I’m sure many of you have heard about the murder case in Arkansas where detectives are seeking access to audio that may have been recorded on an Amazon Echo electronic personal assistant.

Specifically, the police were asking Amazon for “electronic data in the form of audio recordings, transcribed words, text records and other data” captured by the Echo.

So far, Amazon has not yet fully complied with two requests, although it has provided some very limited subscriber information. Here is the statement from Amazon:

Amazon 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.

The case certainly raises issues about privacy and justice, but on this one, I’m clearly on the side of the detectives asking for access to what, if anything, the Echo may have recorded that is relevant to the investigation.

If the Amazon Echo is always getting smarter, as its ad above claims, then why not use that knowledge to discover the truth?

However, I would think the odds of the Echo having anything relevant is quite slim in this particular situation.

First, activating the Echo requires someone to say a key word, usually “Alexa”, to activate the device. Second, the Echo can pick up sounds up to 20 feet away from the device, and only record for up to 60 seconds. In this case the Echo was on the kitchen counter and it appears that that the murder took place in a hot tub.

So I’m not sure if the person being attacked in a hot tub would have had the presence of mind to yell out “Alexa” to a device that is in the kitchen, and hope that it can pick up something meaningful related to the attack.

But if somehow these two circumstances did take place (yelling “Alexa” and being within range), then it was clearly a cry for help, which I believe the detectives are then entitled to listen to.

It seems as if the only reason the defense attorney does not want the audio recording released (if indeed there is any), is that his client is concerned with what may be on there. If the defendant has nothing to worry about, then it seems like he would be willing to allow the audio to be part of the investigation.

Technology keeps marching forward, and I think laws lag behind such advances. I previously wrote about the use of big data in helping prevent mass shootings, and I noted then that I was in favor of such developments. This case seems to have similar issues.

If technology can make the world a safer, more just place, then why shouldn’t we take advantage of such capabilities?

If you’re not breaking the law, it seems as  if you would want technology to help prove your innocence.

If that’s not the case, then I can see why people would fight for their privacy. But should illegal acts be protected behind the claim of a right to privacy?

I certainly don’t think so.

So the solution seems pretty simple to me, and Jim Carey nailed it in this scene from Liar, Liar. If you took his advice, I don’t think people would be so overly concerned about protecting their privacy.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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