Google's Alexa May Have Witnessed A Murder

Google's Alexa May Have Witnessed A Murder

I have handled cases where phones are tracked or monitored, showing the location of crimes, driving routes and/or the location of the perpetrators. I had a recent federal case where my client's Google accounts provided an unbelievable amount of information through records of physical tracking, website searches, photos and email and social media actions. Thankfully, this information was used for the benefit of this particular client. 

As technology develops, the use of that technology by law enforcement will also grow and stretch the boundaries of what may be considered a reasonable expectation of privacy.

A recent article in the Washington Post explains how prosecutors in Farmington N.H. are demanding the recordings from a particular Alexa device they believe may have recorded a murder. Timothy Verrill is accused of killing Sullivan and her friend Jenna Pellegrini over suspicions that they were informing police about an alleged drug operation. Prosecutors say Alexa, the voice service for Amazon’s Echo smart devices, was sitting on the kitchen counter the entire time.

So far the prosecutors have been successful in having the Court order Amazon to turn over the evidence. “The court finds there is probable cause to believe the server(s) and/or records maintained for or by contain recordings made by the Echo smart speaker from the period of Jan. 27 to Jan. 29, 2017 . . . and that such information contains evidence of crimes committed against Ms. Sullivan, including the attack and possible removal of the body from the kitchen.”

The Washington Post further wrote:

Tech companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple with its iPhone and Google with its Home device are what a recent article in the Harvard Law Review called “'surveillance intermediaries' ... entities that sit between law enforcement agencies and the public’s personal information, and that have the power to decide just how easy or difficult it will be for law enforcement to access that information."

According to the article, there were more than 32,000 requests for information by law enforcement officials to Facebook alone during a six-month period in 2017.

“While intermediaries must comply with statutory and constitutional law governing law enforcement requests for information,” the article noted, “they still hold a large degree of discretion when processing those requests: discretion in how critically they evaluate the legality of requests, in slowing down the process by insisting on proceduralism, and in minimizing their capacity to respond to legal requests by implementing encryption.”

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