Amazon Echo, iPhones and Fitbits are providing evidence in criminal cases
Alexa – can you solve this murder?
Investigators hope that data recorded on an Arkansas man’s Amazon Echo will help reveal how a man ended up dead in the suspect’s hot tub.
The defendant, James Andrew Bates, was accused of killing former cop Victor Collins in November 2015 after a night of drinking and watching football. Bates’ home is wired with smart devices like the Echo, whose seven microphones “wake up” when someone says “Alexa,” and gives a command. The device saves a recording and a transcript of whatever was asked, which the user must manually delete.
It’s unclear what the cops hope they will hear recorded on the Echo. But Bates volunteered to let Amazon release his data last month in hopes that Alexa will help prove his innocence. He is out on bail, and his trial is set to begin this year.
Amazon declined to comment, other than telling Moneyish that the company “will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.” In this case, the customer gave the greenlight to let cops sort through his data.
This is just the latest case of personal technology being used to vindicate or incriminate someone. Santa’s got nothing on smartphones and smartwatches, which know when you’ve been sleeping, and can tell when you’re awake.
Fitness trackers in particular can be collecting evidence as well as counting steps. Connecticut police have charged a man with murdering his wife after analyzing the victim’s Fitbit data, which poked holes in his story.
Richard Dabate gave officers a detailed timeline recounting how an intruder attacked him and tied him up in December 2015 before shooting his wife Connie when she came home. But the Fitbit that Connie was wearing showed she was still moving around at the time Richard said she was already dead.
Police also busted a Pennsylvania woman for making a false report that she was sexually assaulted in bed last year, in part because her Fitbit data revealed that she was awake and walking around the entire time she was supposedly being attacked. Fitbit also declined to comment.
The Find My iPhone app hasn’t just helped Apple owners recover stolen phones – it’s also helped police officers to stop strings of burglaries – and even find dead bodies.
A Texas woman activated the phone-finding app to track down her husband when he didn’t come home this past January – and found her husband’s corpse on the side of the road instead. Police said he had been shot once in the torso, and they are still looking for his killer.
Earlier this month, a New York man was arrested for stealing more than 100 cell phones at Coachella after festival goers tracked him down using the app, and notified police.
And an Ohio man was arrested for arson after his pacemaker tipped off investigators that he wasn’t asleep as he said when the fire started. Ross Compton pleaded not guilty to being charged with arson in February based partly on data mined from the device regulating his heart beat.
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