New technology such as Alexa and other information devices have given police new and effective tools. But this evidence also raises serious concerns about illegal search and seizure and privacy rights in prosecutions in Arizona and across the country.
In a New Hampshire murder case, a judge ordered Amazon to release recordings from a victim’s Echo device and any cellphones that it was paired with for three days in 2017 when she was killed. When a person speaks to Alexa, a query is sent to the cloud where a request is processed and then a request is sent. Alexa, if it was activated during the crime, may have recorded evidence like acoustic patterns that could identify a suspect, the attack and the removal of the suspect from the crime scene.
In Arkansas, detectives investigating a murder of a victims found in the suspect’s hot tub sought a warrant for information from Amazon because they believed that music was streamed by Alexa during the victim’s death. Police believed that the device would disclose evidence from the suspect and friends drank in a hot tub after watching football.
Amazon, however, fought the warrant because of important First Amendment and privacy interests. Amazon ultimately relented after defense attorneys agreed to provide this evidence. Prosecutors ultimately found nothing incriminating.
Previously, courts interpreted the fourth amendment to allow access to documents given to third parties, such as bank records. But courts are dealing with new technologies and unique circumstances. These devices record private conversations and network activity. Often this is done inadvertently and without the user’s knowledge. Release of this information may violate the expectation of privacy that individuals believed they had in their homes.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized these concerns. It ruled that cell phone users had a reasonable expectation of privacy in cell-phone records from their wireless carriers. They do not voluntarily provide geolocation to carriers and this information is taken from them, so they can use these devices. The Court ruled that a warrant was required for this information and reversed an appeals court decision.
An attorney should be contacted immediately when police try to seize cellphones and other devices. An attorney can fight warrantless searches and illegally-obtained evidence and help assure that constitutional rights are protected.