Alexa might determine whether an accused murderer goes free

Alexa might determine whether an accused murderer goes free
Imagine this, a courtroom in Ft. Lauderdale during a murder trial. The judge tells the prosecutor to call the next witness and the bailiff yells out for Alexa to take the stand. And sure enough, an Amazon Echo speaker is being sworn in. Since the Echo doesn't have any hands, the bailiff taps the top of the speaker with the bible and says, "Alexa, do you swear that the evidence that you shall give, shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"  The virtual digital assistant replies "Sorry, I'm having trouble understanding you." The judge cites Alexa for contempt and locks up the Echo speaker in jail.

Okay, the above is a bit of an embellishment. The truth though, according to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, is that the Alexa digital helper is a "witness" to the alleged murder of 32-year Silvia Galva last July in Hallandale, Florida. The act was allegedly committed by her boyfriend, 43-year old Adam Reechard Crespo. Galva was killed by a spear with a 12-inch blade that entered her chest; recordings possibly made by Alexa of an argument the two had that evening could help a jury decide whether it was second-degree murder like the prosecution claims, or an accident like the defense says. For now, Crespo is out free on a $65,000 bond.

Amazon turned over recordings sought by the prosecution; the police are not revealing what they show

A friend of the couple reported to police that she had heard them argue before the spear entered Galva's body. As a result of this information, a search warrant was obtained by the cops that included anything recorded by a couple of speakers that were found in the couple's apartment. In the application that the police filed to receive the warrant, the authorities wrote that "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." And while Amazon did turn over the requested audio, the police are keeping silent for now about what they might learn from the recordings. "We did receive recordings, and we are in the process of analyzing the information that was sent to us," said Sgt. Pedro Abut, a spokesman for the Hallandale Police.

Concerned that consumers are going to worry about Alexa spying on them, Amazon spokesman Leigh Nakanishi pointed out that Alexa records questions and requests from users for a short period of time after a wake word is said. "No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word," the spokesman said. Nakanishi also noted that users can select from one of four words to activate Amazon's digital speaker such as Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo. A "mute" setting can block Alexa from hearing anything including the wake words. Earlier this year, we told you that Amazon has transcribers on its payroll that listen to these snippets of audio recorded by Alexa. The company said that it does this to improve how well the virtual assistant understands questions and commands from users and to make sure that Alexa is responding appropriately. Both Apple and Google also do the same thing with Siri and Google Assistant respectively. Apple stopped this practice until it added a feature in iOS 13.2 that allows users to opt-in to this program if they choose to do so.

"Amazon does not disclose customer information in response to government demands unless we’re required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order," Nakanishi said. "Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course."

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