- A US judge has instructed Amazon to hand over audio recordings from an Amazon Echo as evidence in a murder case.
- Prosecutors believe the Echo may have evidence relating to the murders of Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pelligrini in New Hampshire in January 2017.
- Amazon’s AI assistant Alexa is constantly listening out for “wake-up words” and records snippets of audio when it hears them.
- Amazon said it won’t release any customer information “without a valid and binding legal demand.”
- This is not the first time audio from an Echo has been requested in a murder case.
A judge in New Hampshire, US, has ordered Amazon to hand over any audio recorded on an Amazon Echo device as prosecutors believe it may contain evidence about a double homicide.
Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pelligrini were found dead with multiple stab wounds in January 2017. Timothy Verrill, 36, was charged in connection with the murders in November 2017. He pleaded not guilty, and awaits trial in May 2019.
Prosecutors requested access to recordings from an Echo which was at the house where the women were found, hidden under the porch. Police initially seized the Echo as evidence after searching the house.
“Investigators believe Sullivan was attacked in the kitchen of 979 Meaderboro Road where the Echo was located, and prosecutors believe there is probable cause to believe there is evidence on the Echo, such as audio recordings of the attack and events that followed it,” prosecutors said in court documents, as reported by CBS Boston.
Prosecutors believe there may be recordings from between January 27 and 29, 2017, the period in which they believe the women were murdered.
Amazon’s AI assistant Alexa (which works on Echo devices) listens out for “wake-up words” and records snippets of audio when it thinks it hears one. Prosecutors also point out that the Echo would contain records of paired devices.
Strafford County Superior Court Presiding Justice Steven M. Houran handed down the ruling to Amazon on Friday last week, ABC reports.
It said: “The court directs Amazon.com to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability, FCC ID number ZWJ-0823, from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period.”
An Amazon spokeswoman told Business Insider: “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.”
This isn’t the first case in which prosecutors have sought evidence recorded by an Amazon Echo. After the death of an Arkansas police officer in a hot tub in 2015, prosecutors sought to compel Amazon to hand over any recordings that might show whether he was murdered.
Amazon initially refused to hand over the data, saying that government demands could “chill” first amendment rights. But once the defendant and owner of the Echo consented, Amazon complied. The murder charge was eventually dismissed.
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