Last November, a homicide is believed to have taken place in a Bentonville, Arkansas home that has raised some new questions about privacy and technology. One Sunday morning after a guys’ night of drinking and watching football, Victor Collins’s corpse was found in James A. Bates’s hot tub with multiple bruises and indications of a struggle. What makes this particular case interesting is the fact that police, in addition to usual practices and procedures, decided to seize the home’s Amazon Echo, believing it to be a door to audio files useful in unveiling the mysterious death of Collins.
Police served a warrant to Amazon, claiming that “...Amazon.com is in possession of records related to a homicide investigation being conducted by the Bentonville Police Department.” Amazon refused to comply with the warrant, similar to when Apple refused to help the FBI crack an iPhone belonging to terrorists in December of 2015. In an email to The Post, Amazon stated they would not release information without binding legal obligation, “Amazon objects to overboard or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
Despite the fact that the device only starts recording audio when it hears the wake word “Alexa”, and any disputes with this have been denied by Amazon, the whole ordeal still brings in question the privacy expected with “life-improving” technology. Many are now asking if personal files recorded by smart home devices are even fair game for official investigations. After pleading not guilty, Bates’s lawyer Kimberly Weber had this to say on the subject: “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us.”
After the unsuccessful attempt on his Echo’s information, the Bentonville Police Department has resorted using water meter information from the Bentonville utilities department. The amount of water used between the hours of 1:00am to 3:00am on the morning in question is rather high and consistent with spraying down the back patio, possibly to clean a mess. Bates is currently out on bail and his trial is set to begin in 2017.