Amazon won’t fight a subpoena that had hoped to use information gathered from an Echo speaker in the investigation of a murder case. Amazon had previously refused to hand over information to the cops, citing First Amendment protections, but has now acquiesced after the defendant gave authorities permission to access the data.
It’s a seemingly quiet end to a battle that seemed straight out of a Lifetime movie. In December, The Information reported that police in Bentonville, Arkansas wanted Amazon to hand Amazon Echo data stored on its servers. The data, authorities said, could possibly be connected with the November 2015 murder of Victor Collins, who was found dead in a hot tub at the home of Andrew Bates. Bates later plead not guilty to first-degree murder.
In the course of the investigation, offices found an Amazon Echo speaker near the hot tub. Knowing that the Echo has always-listening capabilities (it listens specifically for key words such as “Alexa” or “Amazon”), officers in the case subpoenaed Amazon to find out what information, if any, the company had in connection to the murder. The thought process was that some conversations that took place immediately before the murder could have been captured by the speaker.
Amazon balked at the police department’s request for information. In February, it filed a motion attempting to quash the department’s subpoena on First Amendment grounds. That 91-page motion said in part:
Such government demands inevitably chill users from exercising their First Amendment rights to seek and receive information and expressive content in the privacy of their own home, conduct which lies at the core of the Constitution. To guard against such a chilling effect, this Court should require the State to make a prima facie showing that it has a compelling need for any recordings that were created as a result of interactions with the Echo device, and that the State’s request bears a sufficient nexus to the underlying investigation.
But now it appears the entire fight is moot, because the defendant has agreed to allow Amazon to turn over what data is has to police. It’s still unclear what, if any, information Amazon has on its servers that could be related to the case, but an upcoming hearing scheduled for this Wednesday will presumably answer that question.
This isn’t the first time the data Amazon collects on the Echo has been called into question, either. Last year, Gizmodo’s own Matt Novak filed a Freedom of Information Request to find out if the FBI had ever wiretapped an Amazon Echo. The FBI’s response was that it could “neither confirm nor deny” that it had ever done so.