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Amazon Device Involved in Murder Case

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BENTONVILLE, Arkansas  --  Amazon's virtual assistant device Alexa is involved in a murder case, but the online company is refusing to turn over the machine's data.

According to Gabe Gutierrez of NBC, police in Bentonville, Arkansas, have filed a warrant for electronic data from the virtual assistant, a device that responds to voice commands.

"We know Amazon has a copy because consumers can actually listen to all their Alexa requests and they can delete them, so that's an option that's available in a lot of these technologies--something that's good for consumers to know," says privacy expert Bob Sullivan.

What is not clear is how much relevant data is on the device, or on Amazon's servers.

"Researchers have demonstrated there are times Alexa wakes up accidentally and I think anyone who has one in their house knows when it suddenly awkwardly interrupts a conversation because it thinks it hears a wake word," says Sullivan.

Prosecutors say 32-year-old James Bates murdered his co-worker Victor Collins, who was found strangled in Bates' hot tub.

Bates, who called 9-1-1 when he found Collins, has pleaded not guilty.

"Did anybody think when this was being created that information you gave to Alexis or you gave to the amazon echo would be used outside your home, and then be used to have you arrested for a crime you didn't commit?" says Bates' attorney Kim Weber.

But investigators say this new technology is just another piece of the puzzle.
"We've established probable cause and obtained warrant from a judge to search this device the same way we would search a person's cellphone, we would search a person's home," says prosecuting attorney Nathan Smith.

Amazon tells NBC News it "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."

"When we give companies data, the big problem is not only how will it be used today, but how could it be combined with other data in the future and then used against us," says Sullivan.

It is important to note that, while the Amazon product is always 'listening,' it is not always 'recording,' until someone says the trigger word.

Still, this raises new questions about technology and police work.

The murder case is scheduled to go trial next year.

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