Amazon's Echo built upon the voice search capability of Android's 'Ok Google' and Apple's Siri and turned it into a device that is capable of doing everything from answering questions to turning on your on your air conditioner. However, like all beneficial technology, when the government gets involved, this useful household item is converted into a spying machine for the surveillance state.
In a seemingly unprecedented case out of Bentonville, Arkansas, the latest example of how police can use your technology against you is coming to fruition.
Investigators in Bentonville have filed search warrants with Amazon, requesting the recordings made on a man's Echo device between November 21 and November 22, 2015. The recordings belong to James A. Bates, who was charged with murder after a man was strangled to death in a hot tub.
According to CNET, while investigating, police noticed the Echo in the kitchen and pointed out that the music playing in the home could have been voice activated through the device. While the Echo records only after hearing the wake word, police are hoping that ambient noise or background chatter could have accidentally triggered the device, leading to some more clues.
"It is believed that these records are retained by Amazon.com and that they are evidence related to the case under investigation," police wrote in the search warrant.
According to court documents, Amazon has yet to concede to the search warrant and has not sent any recordings to police.
However, according to police, Amazon may not have to send over the files for cops to get them. According to the warrant, police believe they can tap into the hardware on the Echo, which could "potentially include time stamps, audio files or other data," reports CNET.
On top of Bates' Echo, police have also attempted to break into his phone, but were unsuccessful due to his password. In response to the delay in investigation caused by Amazon not sending the recordings and the phone password, the police department issued the following ominous response within the warrant.
"Our agency now has the ability to utilize data extraction methods that negate the need for passcodes and efforts to search Victor and Bates' devices will continue upon issuance of this warrant."
Police have also seized an iPhone 6S, a Macbook Pro, a PlayStation 4, three tablets, a Nest thermostat, a Honeywell alarm system, wireless weather monitoring in the backyard and WeMo devices for lighting at the smart home crime scene.
They also pulled the records for Bates' smart meter, which may have proven to be most useful as it shows an "excessive amount of water" used during the alleged strangling.
Of course, any information that can be used to solve a murder is helpful. However, this case will undoubtedly be used to set a precedent that police can subpoena these recordings at any time they see fit. It should also set off alarm bells to those who wish to maintain some level of privacy.
If you don't want the government to see something, don't store it digitally — which is why the following instructions are very important.