Privacy Law

Amazon releases smart speaker data to court

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Amazon Alexa

Following its subpoena fight over smart speaker data in an Arkansas murder case, Amazon has agreed to release the information, after the defendant in court filings indicated that he did not object.

Prosecutors in Benton County, Arkansas, subpoenaed the information for the murder trial of James Andrew Bates, Law360 (sub. req.) reports. Amazon in February filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that requests for information through the product, as well as the service’s responses, are protected speech under the First Amendment.

Bates, who is charged with murder for the 2015 death of Victor Collins, has pleaded not guilty. Collins died in a hot tub, at Bates’ home, and the government requested access to Bates’ Amazon Echo.

The speaker remains in standby mode until activated by a wake word that connects it with Amazon’s cloud-based Alexa Voice Service to receive and respond to personal commands. Audio is not stored on the Echo device, but a recording and transcript are stored on Amazon servers. Customers can review their voice interactions through the Alexa app. Amazon previously provided subscriber information and purchase history to the police but withheld recordings or transcripts.

The government claims that Collins was killed by strangulation, and bruising on his face indicated a struggle. Bates maintains that he went to sleep before Collins died, and Collins and another friend were drinking in his hot tub. According to Bates, who is represented by wrongful conviction lawyer Kathleen Zellner, he called police after finding Collins face down in the water.

A hearing to determine if any of the newly released information is relevant is scheduled for Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

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