Could Alexa and Siri Be Used Against You?

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Tony Maples Photography


Do your smart devices, like Alexa or Siri, have the right to remain silent? A murder case in Bentonville, Arkansas puts this question to the test.

In the investigation into the death of Victor Collins at the alleged hands of James Andrew Bates, investigators have requested the release of audio and other records from an Echo digital assistant belonging to Bates.

Amazon said no…twice.

After Bates, Collins, and two other friends watched a football game at Bates’ home in November 2015, Collins and one of the other friends spent the night. The next morning, Collins’s body was found in Bates’s hot tub, beaten and strangled, with drowning deemed a secondary cause of death.

A grand jury indicted Bates in the murder and for tampering with physical evidence. Police picked him up, but he is now out on bail.

Though the investigation up to this point revolved around compelling detective work, investigators are requesting Amazon to release data contained on the Echo device to them.

This brings up the question of privacy inside the home. Every day, people carry smart phones and other devices capable of tracking their movements and recording their words and actions. Should these devices be open to law enforcement in the investigation of a crime?

“The myth we must fight against with Echo is that it’s constantly listening in on you — it’s not. I understand that law enforcement would have an interest in any information that could help in a murder investigation, but it can be argued that this data would be of very limited use as compared to individual privacy rights,” Lynn Terwoerds, founder of the Voice Privacy Industry Group, told USA Today.

In the same article, USA Today quotes Marc Rotenberg, president of EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit group in Washington, DC, as saying to protect privacy, “there should be clear legal standards established for law enforcement access. And manufacturers should adopt techniques for data minimization and data deletion. Devices that retain data will be the targets not only of law enforcement officials but also criminal hackers.”

What do you think? Should Amazon release the information?