BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS — In what may very well be a sign of things to come, authorities served a search warrant to the Amazon corporation for any records in connection with the murder of Victor Collins on November 22, 2015.
At issue is information that may be contained on an Amazon Echo device that was in the home of James Andrew Bates, 31, where the killing occurred. Bates has been arrested and charged with the crime.
Collins, 47, who had previously served as a law-enforcement officer in Georgia, was found dead in a hot tub on Bates’s property.
On the night in question, Victor Collins — along with friends Owen McDonald and Sean Henry — gathered at James Bates’s home to watch Arkansas Razorbacks football game.
Throughout the evening, the men drank beer and did several shots of vodka. Henry left early, but Collins and McDonald decided to keep the party going by hopping into the hot tub out on Bates’s concrete patio. The host himself claimed he went to bed around 1 A.M., leaving his two buddies out in the tub.
Upon waking the next morning, Bates said he found Collins face-down in the hot tub, dead, and that blood and other bodily fluids appeared visible in the water. Blood spatter apparently also landed on the walls inside the hot tub, as well as on the tub’s cover. McDonald, who had joined Collins for that fateful dip, was nowhere to be found.Examiners determined that the blood came from Collins. In addition, the dead man sported large bruises, a black eye, and several cuts on his face. The cause of death was ruled to be strangulation. McDonald was then satisfactorily ruled out as a suspect.
As the investigation continued, troubling inconsistencies in Bates’s story, along with abrasions on his hands indicating a struggle, ended up making him the prime suspect.
An extended search of the home turned up Collins’s wedding ring, a broken shot glass, and Collins’s broken eyeglasses.
Officers subsequently arrested Bates on February 22, 2016. He was charged with first-degree murder and is out on bail until his 2017 trial.
The precedent-setting aspect of the case focuses on the Amazon Echo device owned by Bates.
As the Echo operates in an “always on” state so it can hear voice commands, it’s not unusual for such devices to be triggered into a listening mode entirely by accident.
Authorities served a warrant to Amazon for any audio or records from the Echo owned by James Bates that may have been logged on its servers during the night of the murder.
Amazon declined to give authorities any information directly from their servers, but the company did surrender account details for Bates that allowed police to access the data themselves.
Reports indicate that authorities were able to access something from the Echo, but it’s not clear just what they got in their search.
According to Bates’s attorney Kimberly Weber, just issuing the warrant to Amazon may constitute an invasion of privacy. She said, “You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us.” Privacy advocates are echoing the defense lawyer’s concerns.
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