How Amazon's Alexa Could Help Solve A Double Murder Case


In practice, the system should only activate when triggered by a voice command, but that’s not always the case.  Juan Ci/Shutterstock

Authorities in New Hampshire are turning to an unconventional sleuth in hopes of solving a New Hampshire double murder that took place in January 2017.

Timothy Verill is accused of first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of Christine Sullivan, 48, and 32-year-old Jenna Pellegrini. Verill pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial


Last week, a judge ordered e-commerce giant Amazon to release any recordings taken by an Amazon Echo speaker seized by police from the murder scene. It’s unclear if the smart speaker contains any audio evidence, however, the court found probable cause recordings maintained on an Amazon server could contain "evidence of crimes committed against Ms. Sullivan, including the attack and possible removal of the body from the kitchen."

"Accordingly, the State's motion to search in lieu of a search warrant is granted," reports ABC of the ruling. "The court directs to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability, FCC ID number ZWJ-0823, from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period."

It adds to a growing amount of case studies citing concerns over privacy and technology, though an Amazon spokesperson told the Associated Press that the company won’t release customer information “without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us,” it’s not the first time Alexa has found herself in a sticky situation.

More than 30 million sold across the world last year and that number is expected to grow to nearly 50 million in 2018, making smart speakers the world’s fastest growing consumer technology, and it’s easy to see why. Alexa uses machine learning in real-time to assist users in everything from checking the calendar to finding the best takeout. When a person issues a voice command, Alexa records whatever was said and sends it to a cloud server that then interprets the command via Alexa Voice Services. The system then sends relevant data back to your device.


In practice, the system should only activate when triggered by a voice command, but that’s not always the case. Earlier this year, Amazon’s voice-controlled smart speaker recorded a couple’s private conversation and sent it to a person in their contact list in what Amazon called a misunderstanding. Last year, an Arkansas court similarly allowed prosecutors to use recordings captured by Amazon’s smart speaker as evidence in a murder trial (charges were ultimately dropped).


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