By Aaron Kesel
Police in Florida are investigating whether Alexa can be a witness to a possible murder and are attempting to use the smart device for its knowledge on the death.
In July, Sylvia Galva Crespo, 32, was killed by a spear to the chest at home in her Hallandale Beach, Florida, north of Miami, in which her husband, Adam Crespo, 43, stated was a mysterious accident.
Police believe that the smart device in the home at the time may have heard and recorded something relevant during the fatal altercation when the couple argued after a night out, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“It is believed that evidence of crimes, audio recordings capturing the attack on victim Silvia Crespo that occurred in the main bedroom … may be found on the server maintained by or for Amazon,” police wrote in a legal filing.
Adam Crespo is charged with second-degree murder. Despite this, Crespo is free on $65,000 bond and denies the murder of his wife.
“We did receive recordings, and we are in the process of analyzing the information that was sent to us,” the Hallandale Beach police department spokesman, Sgt Pedro Abut, told the Sun Sentinel.
Crespo's attorney, Christopher O'Toole, stated that if the recordings are released he believes that the evidence will exonerate his client.
"We want to hear these recordings as well," O'Toole said in an interview with NBC's "Weekend Today" show. "I believe in my client's innocence 100 percent. And I think that these recordings are only going to help us."
This is not the first time Alexa recordings were requested to dig deeper into a murder investigation. In 2015, prosecutors in Arkansas asked Amazon to hand over recordings from an Echo device at the home of James Bates, who was charged in the death of his friend former police officer Victor Collins, as Activist Post reported.
Collins was found dead in Bates' hot tub in November 2015, court documents obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said the man died from strangulation with drowning as a secondary cause of death.
Bates stated at the time he was innocent and was in bed when Collins and another friend were in his hot tub fooling around. Bates said he called the police when he woke up the next morning and found Collins' body.
Amazon turned over the recordings only after Bates' legal team consented, according to the Democrat-Gazette. Prosecutors said the recordings contained no evidence, and a judge eventually dismissed charges against Bates.
The murder cases in Arkansas and Florida aren't the only cases that have tried to utilize Amazon Alexa as a witness. Another case in New Hampshire of the murder of two women has also previously been in the spotlight.
Last year, it was reported that Timothy Verrill was accused of stabbing Christine Sullivan and Jenna Pellegrini to death over suspicion that one of them was a police informant. Just like the other cases an Amazon Echo was present at the crime scene which was a double homicide. A state judge ordered Amazon to turn over the recordings in that case as well, Tech Crunch reported.
In the New Hampshire case and all others Amazon has made their statement clear:
Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. … Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.
Alexa being used in court trials is nothing new, thus far using the device for prosecution in various cases has failed. However, that could change and if someone is prosecuted based off recorded audio or video from a "smart device," one single case could set a precedent for the future. If a precedent is set, this could allow police to use any recorded audio/video in the future during a criminal proceeding.
That means everything from doorbells like Amazon's Ring surveillance network that connect directly to smartphone apps, fridges with built-in cameras, and even washing machines and smart light bulbs are now potential witnesses in court. We don't think even George Orwell could have predicted that we would be spied on by our appliances. This is a massive potential overreach by police investigators.
Robot witnesses are the least of our worries, soon there could be artificial intelligence helping judge court cases. In fact, it is already happening already in China, and Estonia has plans to use A.I. in less serious cases.
If all police need to prove is probable cause of the underlying crime in the vicinity of the device, they could demand all available smart data after all suspected crimes. That would mean if police have probable cause that a suspect is using drugs in their own home with an Echo device, police could demand information hoping that the device caught incriminating messages. Another scenario would be if police suspect domestic violence, but have nothing concrete so they turn to the smart device praying that it has recordings. Essentially probable cause of a crime would then be substituted for probable cause that the a smart device has information about a crime. If that's not Orwellian then I don't know what is.
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