New Hampshire judge tells Amazon to turn over Echo recordings in murder case

Amazon Alexa is in court once again. During their investigation of the scene of a suspected double homicide, New Hampshire police found an Amazon Alexa in the home. A judge has now ordered Amazon to turn over Alexa recordings from the day the event in question took place as evidence. The Echo was found in the kitchen of the home, and police removed the device during their initial search for evidence.

In its request for the court order, the prosecution states there is “probable cause” that a smart speaker such as the Alexa might have “audio recordings of the attack and the events that followed it.” The request was not limited solely to the smart home speaker, but also to any smartphones paired with the device.

Christine Sullivan and her friend Jenna Pelligrini were found dead from multiple stab wounds. On trial for the crime is Timothy Verill, a friend of Sullivan’s boyfriend. The trial is due to start in May of 2019.

The trial heavily features smart home technology. Aside from the Alexa, Verill allegedly gained access to the home through a security code. The prosecution says that “surveillance video” shows him in the presence of both victims around their estimated time of death. Although not explicitly stated, a connected security camera could easily be the source of this surveillance video.

This is not the first time Alexa has been called on as a crime scene witness. In March of 2017, the Bentonville, Arkansas police department requested Amazon grant access to an Echo device the department believed contained evidence of another first-degree murder. Amazon was reluctant to turn over access, but finally acquiesced after the defendant’s lawyer asked them to do so in order to prove the man’s innocence.

Although the Amazon Echo has been used in investigations in the past, many people are concerned over the precedent this sets. How much the device records is not clear, although it does record a short amount before the activation word — which implies that it is listening, but maybe not recording, at all times. The devices have to “listen” at all times, but privacy experts have assured users they do not record except when the command word is spoken. The outcome of these criminal cases may prove otherwise.


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