Police Access to Recordings of in-Home Computer “assistants”

A lot of people now have computers they can talk to and get answers from – Siri, Alexa, Cortona, etc – not to mention interactive talking dolls.

A man in Arkansas was recently charged with murdering another man in his home. The accused person had a number of such devices in his home, including an Echo device made by Amazon. While the device is set up to activate itself when addressed in a particular way, or by name, sometimes they record in other circumstances.

The police have asked Amazon to turn over any recording made during the relevant period. Amazon has refused.

Should Amazon turn over the recording (assuming one exists)?

Should the police have to get a warrant? Should they be able to get one, on this level of speculation as to whether a recording even exists? (Apparently a warrant was issued in this case. Do its terms seem reasonable to you?)

Does it matter who ‘controls’ the recording, e.g. what rights the owner of the device has to listen to, amend or delete recordings made by the device?

What could the police do if they found a tape recorder or dictaphone in the home? Could they listen to it to see if anything relevant were there, and if there was, could they use it – with or without a warrant first? Why would off-site storage of the recording change the ability of the police to access the recording?


  1. I wonder if Apple, or other providers, use proprietary technology with respect to their “listening”. Perhaps keeping an interpreted record of device commands issued, rather than an MP3 file or another digital-audio file format. In that circumstance, would an Apple technologist be able to dig out more usable information than police forensics?

    Another tangent here, you can add internet-tethered home security systems to your list. These systems must surely be offering more potential in-home recordings, both audio and video.