Amazon
Amazon

Amazon Echo Might Hold Key Evidence in a Murder

Amazon
Amazon

When Victor Collins was found dead in a friend’s hot tub in Bentonville, Arkansas last November, there were few bystanders on the scene—other than his friend and accused killer, James Andrew Bates. But prosecutors are insisting there was another witness that night with potentially valuable information: an Amazon Echo.

According to ABC News, the Benton County prosecution has requested “audio recordings, transcribed records, text records, and other data” from an Echo smart speaker belonging to Bates with the hope that it will provide clues to Collins’s death. Collins died of apparent strangulation and drowning on November 22, 2015 at Bates’s home, after the pair spent the evening watching football and drinking with two other friends.

Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith isn’t sure what—if anything—they might find on the Echo, an internet-connected speaker that listens for user voice commands and speaks back as the AI assistant “Alexa.” He simply sees it as “a question of law enforcement doing their due diligence.” But for Amazon and its users, that question is not so simple.

While Amazon has provided Bates’s basic account information, the company has not released the Echo data. For the tech giant, it's a matter of protecting its customers’ privacy. Amazon spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall said in a statement that the company “will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand” and maintained that Amazon rejects “overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.”

Privacy advocates like Nuala O’Connor, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, are similarly concerned about what this case could mean for evidence rules regarding internet-connected home devices moving forward. She worries that if this case sets a precedent, police could build a circumstantial character sketch from a suspect’s smart thermostat or light dimmer. But for now, legal and privacy experts will have to wait until March 17, when Bates is scheduled for his next court hearing.

[h/t ABC News]

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Why an Ex-FBI Agent Recommends Wrapping Your Keys in Tinfoil Whenever You Leave Your Car
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iStock

A car thief doesn't need to get their hands on your keys to break into your vehicle. If you use a wireless, keyless system, or fob, to unlock your car, all they need to do is steal the signal it emits. Luckily there's a tool you can use to protect your fob from hackers that you may already have in your kitchen at home: tinfoil.

Speaking with USA Today, retired FBI agent Holly Hubert said that wrapping car fobs in a layer of foil is the cheapest way to block their sensitive information from anyone who may be trying to access it. Hackers can easily infiltrate your car by using a device to amplify the fob signal or by copying the code it uses. And they don't even need to be in the same room as you to do it: They can hack the fob inside your pocket from the street outside your house or office.

Electronic car theft is a growing problem for automobile manufacturers. Ideally fobs made in the future will come with cyber protection built-in, but until then the best way to keep your car safe is to carry your fob in an electromagnetic field-blocking shield when you go out. Bags made specifically to protect your key fob work better than foil, but they can cost more than $50. If tinfoil is all you can afford, it's better than nothing.

At home, make sure to store your keys in a spot where they will continue to get protection. Dropping them in a metal coffee can is a lot smarter than leaving them out in the open on your kitchen counter.

[h/t USA Today]

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Why Are Mugshots Made Public Before a Suspect is Convicted by the Court?
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Jennifer Ellis:

Several reasons.

1. Mugshots can help find people when they have absconded, or warn people when someone is out and dangerous. So there is a good reason to share some mugshots.

2. Our legal system requires openness as per the federal constitution, and I imagine most if not all state constitutions. As such, this sort of information is not considered private and can be shared. Any effort to keep mugshots private would result in lawsuits by the press and lay people. This would be under the First and Sixth Amendments as well as the various Freedom of Information Acts. However, in 2016 a federal court ruled [PDF] that federal mugshots are no longer routinely available under the federal FOIA.

This is partially in recognition of the damage that mugshots can do online. In its opinion, the court noted that “[a] disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual.” The court specifically mentions websites that put mugshots online, in its analysis. “In fact, mugshot websites collect and display booking photos from decades-old arrests: BustedMugshots and JustMugshots, to name a couple.” Some states have passed or are looking to pass laws to prevent release of mugshots prior to conviction. New Jersey is one example.

a) As the federal court recognizes, and as we all know, the reality is that if your picture in a mugshot is out there, regardless of whether you were convicted, it can have an unfortunate impact on your life. In the old days, this wasn’t too much of a problem because it really wasn’t easy to find mugshots. Now, with companies allegedly seeking to extort people into paying to get their images off the web, it has become a serious problem. Those companies may get in trouble if it can be proved that they are working in concert, getting paid to take the picture off one site and then putting it on another. But that is rare. In most cases, the picture is just public data to which there is no right of privacy under the law.

b) The underlying purpose of publicity is to avoid the government charging people and abusing the authority to do so. It was believed that the publicity would help protect people. And it does when you have a country that likes to hide what it is up to. But, it also can cause harm in a modern society like ours, where such things end up on the web and can cause permanent damage. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a catch-22. We have the right to know issues and free speech rights smack up against privacy rights and serious damage of reputation for people who have not been convicted of a crime. The law will no doubt continue to shake out over the next few years as it struggles to catch up with the technology.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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