back to article Amazon relinquishes data from Echo that could have dropped eaves on a killing

We'll have to wait a little longer for a test case on the use of data collected by Amazon's eavesdropper Echo in criminal investigations. Authorities in Arkansas served a search warrant on Amazon to obtain the data from an Amazon Echo device in a murder that took place in the state in November 2015. Police believe the murder …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too board

    Anyone in the UK dealing with the police regularly on section 29 requests will have experience of this. We regularly get requests for whole weeks worth of CCTV footage when police have a 1 hour timeframe in which they could narrow it down. We've recently been asking for far tighter timescales, not to reduce cost or our time, but to ensure we're only giving what is required - which is what they are legally entitled to.

    I have however been reminded several times by officers not to impede the investigation, even though I'm clearly not.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Too board

      From having been on the other side... you need to get your people to stop waiting a week to report the crime and then saying "it could have happened any time since last Monday".

      You should also arrange with your criminals not to do reconnaissance before hand, that would make life much easier.

      Btw, we have caught a burglar because they researched the house beforehand, were caught on CCTV and then came back days later to do the actual burglary. Hours of watching CCTV actually paid off for once.

  2. creepy gecko
    Black Helicopters

    Smart Meters...

    I'm unlikely to end up in court on a murder charge (I hope!), but surely this case is another box ticked for the tinfoil hat brigade?

    Why have IoT devices and smart meters in your home when they can be used against you evidentially?

    My wife wants a new "smart" TV. I'm trying to dissuade her. The wikileaks CIA dump may have helped my case. Thanks Jules.

    1. wyatt

      Re: Smart Meters...

      I'd buy one, fail to configure it correctly so it doesn't work and send it back.. at least you've tried!

    2. LDS Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Everything you install...

      ... can and will be used against you in a court of law.

    3. alferdpacker

      Re: Smart Meters...

      So long as there's no camera on them I'm not too worried (just medium worried, the default level these days). I don't care if they know what I watch but I think what I do while I watch it is best left to the imagination.

      Even better not to imagine it at all of course.

      1. Chemical Bob
        Facepalm

        Re: Smart Meters...

        "Even better not to imagine it at all of course."

        Too late. Pass the Mind Bleach, please...

  3. LDS Silver badge
    Joke

    If I were a judge, I'd call Alexa to testify as a witness...

    ... and it will be under an oath...

    1. AndyS

      Re: If I were a judge, I'd call Alexa to testify as a witness...

      "Alexa, place your hand on the Bible..."

      "You have ordered a Bible."

      "No Alexa, I need you to swear..."

      "I don't know how to do that. Would you like to order another Bible?"

      "No Alexa, I categorical..."

      "Thank you for subscribing to Cat Facts! Did you know the average cat sleeps for 18 hours per day?"

      1. 404

        Re: If I were a judge, I'd call Alexa to testify as a witness...

        No I did not!

        Noted they sleep a lot but never got the grant to study them.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is quite disturbing that Amazon has the ABILITY to satisfy this request

    What purpose is served by keeping data Alexa hears longer than a minute? If they want to use it for other purposes like training speech recognition, it should be anonymized and filed away.

    If law enforcement files a request, Amazon should be able to tell them "sorry, that data is wiped almost immediately after Alexa hears it, we don't have anything to give you". Sure, if he said "Alexa, order 10 gallons of bleach, one day delivery" or "Alexa, how do you remove blood soaked into the wood underlayment beneath carpet" there may be a textual record of those transactions (though I'd argue no consumer friendly purpose is served by keeping records of the latter, either)

    Obviously he knows he didn't make any such requests, and to the extent it may have recorded ambient noise I guess he knows where Alexa is located versus whatever would have been overheard if a crime was committed, otherwise he wouldn't have approved the release.

    The 140 gallons of water usage is a bit damning, but entirely circumstantial. The problem he has is that if they can prove their timeline then his story about filling the hot tub comes undone. He better have said something like "the only thing I can think of where I would have used that much water was filling my hot tub, but that was 12 hours earlier" so the prosecution can't claim to the jury he lied to the police about the water usage. I suspect that will be what gets him, not Alexa.

    1. Hugh McIntyre

      Re: It is quite disturbing that Amazon has the ABILITY to satisfy this request

      Re: "What purpose is served by keeping data Alexa hears longer than a minute? If they want to use it for other purposes like training speech recognition, it should be anonymized and filed away."

      I assume their training wants to group what you say today with what you (same person) said yesterday. So the data stored today would need to be stored with the same anon ID as yesterday, which implies storing a mapping from your real->anon ID somewhere :(. Or less good training.

      As such it's not fully anonymized, the same as your Google/Amazon search history may be anonymized when stored and when people do analysis but somewhere they need a mapping so your history can go together.

      Personally I don't have such a listening box at home...

    2. Donn Bly

      Re: It is quite disturbing that Amazon has the ABILITY to satisfy this request

      Voice recordings are kept longer than a minute so that you, the user of the device can go into the web interface, provide feedback, and train the voice recognition. You don't anonymize the recordings as they are tied to your device and your voice. If you anonymized them then you make them worthless for tuning the voice training. Of course you have the ability to dump the voice recordings - but that would reset you back to defaults and hurt the accuracy of your voice recognition.

      It is also VERY helpful when adding things to lists. Your "Shopping" and "To Do" lists are available on your phone, so If I tell Alexa to add something to my shopping list and the voice recognition doesn't decode it properly (or I misspoke something when I added it) when I'm in the store I can actually play back the recording on my phone to hear exactly what I said instead of relying on an interpretation of what it thinks I said.

      Early on Amazon provided the police with credentials that allowed them access to the accused Amazon account - including the voice data. So either the cops were too ignorant to know how to use it, or they found something and wanted Amazon to provide it so that there was a pristine chain of custody. I would like to think the latter, but the former is much more likely -- because if it was the latter they would have asked for specific information, not presented an overly-broad blanket order.

  5. John Styles

    Clippy appears on your smart TV screen: 'it looks like you're trying to dispose of a body'

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