By Rebecca Levin
On November 5, 2018, Judge Steven M. Houran of Strafford County, New Hampshire ordered Amazon to provide authorities with audio recordings from an Amazon Echo device in the investigation of the stabbing of two women in January 2017. Judge Houran wrote the Echo device may possess recordings that give insight into the murders given the device’s location in the home where the women were found. Currently, Amazon is objecting to the legality of this order and has yet to hand over the recordings, stating they will not release the information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” While this dispute is in the early stages; this clash over privacy rights between the government and Amazon is not the first of its kind.
On February 22, 2016, in Benton County, Arkansas, prosecutors charged James Bates with the murder of Victor Collins. After the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Collins’s death a murder, law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Bates’s home where they seized an Amazon Echo device under the assumption that through use of this device Amazon possessed audio recordings that could help solve the murder in question. Prosecutors surmised the Amazon Echo inadvertently recorded audio from the night of November 21, 2015 given the device played music on the night of the alleged murder and could have inadvertently recorded evidence of the murder. Ultimately, Amazon dropped their objection to releasing the recordings when James Bates voluntarily consented to their release on March 3, 2017. These cases highlight the question of what level of protection home smart devices receive under one’s right to privacy. This article will explore how the current laws protect smart home device users under the Fourth Amendment.