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Can an electronic device be a 'witness' against you?

The ever-increasing sophistication of electronic gadgets in our homes and workplaces has given rise to legal issues regarding privacy. One case that has garnered considerable media attention recently involves an alleged murder where police and prosecutors are seeking access to the information recorded on the victim's Amazon Echo.

The Echo is a voice-activated device that can play music, provide news and information and stream podcasts, all at the verbal request of a person who is within 20 feet or so of it. Google Home is a similar device.

Amazon has so far refused to provide the electronic data captured by the device that has been requested by those investigating the murder case because it "objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands."

The case raises larger questions that will no doubt need to be addressed in other criminal cases about privacy and law enforcement's rights to access devices like cellphones, cameras and these electronic personal assistants.

Just how much, if any, relevant information, is on the device is unknown. The Amazon Echo requires a "wake word" to activate it and then records only about a minute of sound. One privacy expert says, "We have to fight against the myth of Echo listening in on our every word and sending that data to Amazon -- it's simply untrue."

Many of our readers will recall a similar electronic privacy battle a little over a year ago when federal officials asked Apple to unlock an iPhone belonging to a man involved in the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Apple refused to do so. However, they were able to unlock the phone through other means.

It used to be that when someone was accused of a crime, the witnesses were people who could be cross-examined. Now there are any number of electronic "witnesses." That's all the more reason why experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorneys are essential to help protect defendants as they go through the legal process.

Source: The New York Times, "Bid for Access to Amazon Echo Audio in Murder Case Raises Privacy Concerns," Christopher Mele, Dec. 28, 2016

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