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Prosecutors seek Amazon Echo data in Arkansas man's death

by The Associated Press | December 28, 2016 at 4:06 p.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Authorities investigating the death of an Arkansas man whose body was found in a hot tub want to expand the probe to include a new kind of evidence: any comments overheard by the suspect's Amazon Echo smart speaker.

Amazon said it objects to "overbroad" requests as a matter of practice, but prosecutors insist their idea is rooted in a legal precedent that's "as old as Methuselah."

The issue emerged in the slaying of Victor Collins, who was found floating face-up last year in the hot tub at a friend's home in Bentonville, about 150 miles northwest of Little Rock. The friend, James Andrew Bates, was later charged with murder.

Prosecutors have asked the court to force Amazon to provide data from the Echo that could reveal more clues about the night of Nov. 22, 2015, when Collins was apparently strangled and drowned.

Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said Wednesday that he has no idea if the device recorded anything related to the death. But looking for clues is simply "a question of law enforcement doing their due diligence."

Like any investigation, "law enforcement has an obligation to try to obtain evidence of the crime," Smith said.

The device is a cylinder-shaped speaker with internet-connected microphones that debuted in late 2014. Similar to other gadgets, it listens for a user's voice and responds to commands — to play music, read the morning headlines or add an upcoming event to a calendar, for instance. The Echo can speak back to the user in a female voice known as "Alexa."

The search warrant, signed by a judge in August, requests all "audio recordings, transcribed records, text records and other data" from Bates' Echo speaker.

So far, authorities have obtained only basic subscriber and account information. Smith said Wednesday that his office has had discussions with Amazon, but that the bulk of the request remains unfulfilled.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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