When Technology Witnesses a Murder
BENTONVILLE, Ark. – While technology progresses, detectives will write search warrant affidavits requesting courts for authority to search newly created devices for information that contains evidentiary value.
Most people who received an Amazon Echo device for Christmas probably want to ask Alexa, the voice-automated assistant, questions about the weather, the news or their music playlists. But there’s one Echo in Arkansas that police want to ask for clues in a murder investigation, reported theblaze.com.
According to The Information, a tech news website, police in Bentonville have obtained a warrant for Amazon to give them any audio or other records stored in the Echo owned by James Andrew Bates, who is slated to go to trial next year for first-degree murder in the death of Victor Collins.
Amazon has refused to deliver all the data on the device, although the company gave police Bates’ account details and purchase history. With the information, investigators were able to retrieve information from the speaker, but it unknown what data they were able to access.
“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” the company said in a statement to Engadget. “Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
In addition to information from the Echo, there were other technological clues left behind, according to Engadget:
Police said Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech showed 140 gallons of water used between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. Investigators theorized the water was used to wash away evidence from the patio.
Bates’ lawyer, Kimberly Weber, doesn’t think the evidence should be admissible. But then again, what defense attorney would?
Weber argued, “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,” she said.
Prosecutors could reasonably retort that citizens have an expectation of privacy in many areas in life. Yet when detectives have probable cause to believe a felony has been committed, and the residence, vehicle, container, electronic device, etc. contains evidence of the crime, judges can and will grant authority to search.
Regardless of the contrivance that potentially contains information of evidentiary value, the process to access these new features will remain the same; does probable cause exist?
The bigger question is not whether law enforcement has probable cause to obtain a search warrant, but weather they have the technological expertise to retrieve the evidence without the assistance of the manufacturer once the search warrant has been authorized.
This scenario harkens back to April, when the FBI paid more than $1 million to unlock the iPhone used by San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook. After Apple refused to assist the bureau by unlocking the device, citing concerns over privacy rights, the federal agency found “an outside party” that was able to crack the code and gain access to the shooter’s iPhone.