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Echo For The Prosecution

By Carl Weiss
Courtesy of  Flickr

“Do you swear to tell the data, the whole data and nothing but the data, so help you Intel?”

“Dwee Doo.”

When you think about it, it almost seems like a plot for a sci-fi movie.  The police, while investigating a murder, bring in for questioning an Android.  Said Android was witness to murder.  The prosecution via the courts compels the Android to testify as to what it heard when the murder occurred.

As incredible as it sounds, the above-mentioned scenario took place in Arkansas, when police accused James A. Bates of killing his friend Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates' backyard hot tub in 2015.  During the course of the investigation, homicide detectives noted that Bates owned an Amazon Echo.  Realizing that the device is voice activated, the police issued a search warrant to Amazon, demanding that the Seattle company provide data, including voice recordings that had been saved from Bates’ device.

This court order has unleashed a firestorm of controversy from everyone from Amazon to defense attorneys and civil liberties organizations from across the country.  The reason for the uproar is obvious, Amazon’s Alexa is not the only AI-enabled personal assistant tasked with listening in on user’s conversations.  Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, along with a host of lesser-known digital assistants and voice-enabled devices could also become witnesses for the prosecution in the near future if a precedent is established allowing law enforcement to issue search warrants for digital devices.

Courtesy of Flickr
Currently. Amazon and its attorneys are refusing to honor the court order.  The company stated that the search warrant is too broad since it doesn’t specify what data the state believes could have been recorded by Bate’s Echo, other than to state it wants evidence released that is related to the case under investigation.  The next step by the prosecution could be to take Amazon to court to force its compliance with the search warrant. 

Bates’ own defense attorney stated that, "It's fishing. They want to find out and take a look at what might be there that might help their case," he said. "They're going to have to come up with a specific reason of what they think is going to be found there."

Courtesy of  YouTube
Of course, if Amazon’s attempt to stonewall Arkansas prosecutors doesn’t pan out, they can always follow Facebook’s lead in responding to subpoenas for user’s data.  When the Boston Police were hunting the Craigslist Killer, they subpoenaed the social net.  When presented with a subpoena for a suspect's Facebook data, the police were presented with more information than they could handle. 

“Facebook already shares its Law Enforcement Guidelines publicly, but we've never actually seen the data Menlo Park sends over to the cops when it gets a formal subpoena for your profile information. Now we know. This appears to be the first time we get to see what a Facebook account report looks like.
The 71-page document is actually two documents in one. The first eight pages are the actual subpoena; the remaining 62 pages are from Facebook. Most of the pages sent over from the social networking giant consist of a single photograph, plus formal details such as the image's caption, when the image was uploaded, by whom, and who was tagged. Other information released includes Wall posts, messages, contacts, and past activity on the site.”
While privacy online is next to non-existent, picture a world where local and federal agencies are provided access to everyone’s digital footprints.  Talk about the emperor wearing no clothes.  Is this a case of the Surveillance Society at its best, or is it the beginning of an Orwellian nightmare that has just begun?  In the case of Philip Markoff, the prime suspect in the Craigslist Killer case, we’ll never know, since he committed suicide before coming to trial.

Especially troubling is the impact of the use of testimony gleaned from our personal digital domain that begs the question of “Are our constitutional rights being usurped?”  The constitution provides every citizen with the right to face their accuser.  If the party making a damning statement is digital in nature, how would it be possible for the defense to cross-examine the witness?  More troubling still is the fact that once this Pandora’s box been opened, will digital evidence prove to be so powerful that it will be too believable to be ignored by a jury?

Courtesy of  Wikipedia
I can see a day when everything from nanny cams to AI-enabled TV remote controls will be used by one side or the other in divorce and child custody cases.  People today are routinely deprived of their rights and their hard-earned money by robotic traffic cameras.  Citizens are arrested and incarcerated for having taboo porn images on their computers.  How much would it take for a government agent or an enterprising hacker to fake digital evidence in order to further their aims? 

The bottom line is that if the courts allow the use of ever more of our personal digital information to be used against us, will there come a time when none of us is safe from these virtual witnesses for the prosecution?

If you would like to read more on this subject, visit the 2017 show notes page on our blog that corresponds with this article. In particular, I recommend reading the article called “Know Your Rights!”. It contains very important and useful information about what your electronic rights are and discusses ways you can protect yourself and your rights. For example; did you know that if a police officer asks you to look at or search any of your belonging, dwelling or other assets and you say OK, you just gave them consent to search most everything without a warrant! This article is not a substitute for a good lawyer, but it can help you get a better understanding of how your rights are at stake.

In this article, I have discussed how law enforcement is pushing the boundaries of digital data access in ordered to prosecute crimes.  This article covers specific events where law enforcement went after digital data from Amazon Echo, Apples Siri and Facebook just to name a few.  Lots of detail links, pictures and video are provided to enhance the reader experience.
Get your FREE copy today!

If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, contact us at 904-410-2091. We will provide a free marketing analysis to help you get better results. If you found this article useful please share it with your friends, family, and co-workers. If you would like to learn more about this subject, visit the notes page on this blog for the BlogTalkRadio show dated 1/3/2017. I recommend checking out "The Piracy of Privacy - The Looting of Privacy in America", Big Data comes Wrapped in Big Danger  and "Trick or Tweet? The Vulnerabilities Inherent to Twitter and All Social Networks".  You can also search for other related articles by typing in “Mistakes or Tips” in the search box top of this blog. Also, don't forget to plus us on Google+.  

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Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on

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