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Experts weigh in on how Amazon Alexa device could assist police in KCMO homicide case

Amazon Alexa Privacy
Posted at 8:03 PM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-05 21:06:51-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, police are hoping a smart home device can help them solve the homicide case of two Stowers Institute researchers.

KCPD believes the phrase “Hey Alexa," or other similar ones could be the key to solving the case. Local tech experts agree.

"Most people aren’t aware, but your Amazon echo devices are almost always listening to your conversation,” said Burton Kelso, a technology expert with Integral.

That is why KCPD obtained a search warrant asking Amazon for the cloud data inside an Alexa smart device found at the scene of the crime.

“If the smart speakers had recorded, (it could produce) not only some sound, but possibly voices,” said David Bernard, a retired KCPD homicide unit sergeant.

On Saturday, Kansas City fire crews responded to a blaze at an apartment in the 4100 block of Oak Street.

After the flames were put out, crews found the bodies of 24-year-old Camila Behrensen and 25-year-old Pablo Guzman-Palma.

Kelso says the smart home device found inside the apartment could hold key information.

“It only works when you use the wake words, or any word that comes close to the word Alexa,” Kelso said. “But once that happens, your devices are recording any conversation that is going on in the room or in your environment.” 

Bernard agreed, saying smart devices could record words or even movement.

“Then there is going to be a record of possible doors opening and closing,” Bernard said. “ Locks opening and unlocking, there could be times that they discover where the light has been turned off, turned on, the heating adjusted, so theres a lot of that they could recover.”

Bernard also said the device could pick up the alleged suspect's voice.

With the help of experts including forensic or audio engineers, along with voice biometric professionals, investigators would be able possibly help identify the suspect.

“To get this into court, you’re going to the to ensure a lot of things," Bernard said. "Such as, is this is an authentic recording, has it not been edited or you know digitally enhanced in any aspect."

Kelso said that although some might see the recording as an invasion of privacy, owners of smart devices are able to alter the settings.

“With the Alexa device, you have the option to configure your device to help you out in emergency situations,” Kelso said. “You can configure your Alexa device to alert when there is breaking glass, or any incident that could sound like you need to have the incident recorded.”

At this time, KCPD are hoping the smart device could help close this case.

“Hopefully they’re going to find something in the recordings that they are going to be able to use as evidence and hopefully get this crime solved,” Bernard said.