Amazon Echo Features In Second Murder Case

John Lister's picture

A judge says Amazon must hand over recordings from an Echo smart speaker to assist with a stabbing case that left two women dead. It's the first time such a court order has been made without a defendant's permission.

The New Hampshire case involved two women's bodies being discovered under a porch. A man who knew the boyfriend of one of the victims has been charged with two counts of first degree murder, and has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say there is probable cause that the device could contain potential evidence which could include "audio recordings of the attack and events that followed it." The judge also agreed to a request for details of all devices (such as smartphones) that had been paired with the Echo speaker. (Source:

Amazon says it only hands over such information as and when it receives a valid, binding court order.

Previous Case Dropped

In a previous case, Amazon provided data in a similar situation. In that case, the death occurred in the home of the person charged with the murder. One witness recalled hearing music streaming through the Echo.

Prosecutors wanted to examine the device for audio recordings that might establish who was on the premises and at what time. That case didn't wind up in a court order; instead, Amazon rejected the initial request but then provided the data after the defendant gave consent. All charges were later dropped.

Although devices such as the Echo are sometimes described as "always listening", that's a little misleading. That's why it's something of a long shot that they'll provide useful information in such cases.

Although the speech recognition is constantly on, the device "hears" and processes speech in short burst of a few seconds. If it doesn't hear the trigger word (such as "Alexa" on an Echo), this local recording is deleted and replaced when the next few seconds is analyzed.

Red Light Guarantees Privacy

If it does hear the trigger word, it sends the audio - including the few seconds before the word "Alexa" - for remote processing to decipher the full command and tell the device how to respond.

Entrepreneur's Hayden Field notes there's also a mute feature that turns off the listening mode altogether. As a security measure, this mode triggers a red light to show that the device is not listening.

Since the same electric wire is used to power both the light and the microphone - but not both at the same time - it is therefore impossible for the device to listen while displaying the light. This means that the Echo cannot be remotely hacked to listen in on conversations, provided that the mute button is enabled. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Was the court right to make this order? Does the slim chance of picking up any useful information change your opinion on the privacy vs judicial process issue in this case? Have you considered buying a smart speaker and if so, how much did privacy influence your decision?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (3 votes)


stooobeee's picture

Anyone who has been following security vs privacy laws are slowly realizing that everyone knows what is in your backyard. But where an egregious crime has been committed, there cannot be privacy. Evidence, no matter where it is hidden, must be ascertained. We are seeing the benefits of technology; sadly, we are also seeing how technology has far surpassed our ability as human beings to be emotionally on par with it. Development of anything new takes time under countless circumstances and trials to see the long-term effects. But our culture has grown inward, and what used to be for us perseverance with great patience, has devolved into immediate gratification. So it is rather the means to expect more, instantly, for self-pleasure. That is a sad mixture, and we are reaping the results of it.
Technology is more and more meant to keep one from having any semblance of modesty because it is all about advertising oneself. Not only do we give up privacy, but in that very act of giving it up, we give up our means to be secure.