In the past few years there has been some discussion about whether or not companies, like Amazon, should be required to produce recordings on their electronic devices to be used as evidence in criminal cases. Most commonly the Echo Dot and other Echo devices.
In November of 2019, a New Hampshire Judge ordered Amazon to produce recordings in a case where two women were murdered. Investigators on the case believe that one of the women murdered was attacked in her kitchen and there was an activated Echo Dot in the kitchen at that time of the attack. Prosecutors believe that the device may have recorded the attack and the events that followed it.
Following the event an Amazon spokesperson released a statement saying, “Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to over-broad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”
In another November 2019 case, a Florida man was charged with murder of a woman who died from a stab wound to the chest. And in a 2015 case out of Arkansas, there was a man who was found dead in his friend’s hot tub. In both cases prosecutors sought to use the echo dot at the home to prove the murder by the men charged. In both cases search warrants or court orders were issued to retrieve the recordings on Echo dots that were in the house at the time of the murder. Amazon gave similar responses in both incidents and was only willing to give up the recordings by court order or when the victim’s party consented to have the recordings be heard.
Although this information has mostly been sought in criminal cases, it begs the question for using them on civil side as well.
Could Echo recordings be used to prove domestic violence in custody disputes, or prove sexual abuse? Could victims who were harmed in their own home consent to using the Echo recordings to help their case? Could the Echo recordings be used to provide an Alibi? This is in interesting area of the law where courts are mainly addressing it in fact specific situations.
Attempting to access recording information stored on these devices to be used as evidence, creates Fourth, Fifth, and possibly Sixth Amendment issues that courts may have to address in the near future. Especially in our current world of ever-changing technology.
Written by David Burns, UNT Dallas College of Law