Major Paper

“Alexa, Who Committed the Double Homicide?:  Concerns and Implications Arising from the Possible Use of Amazon’s Echo Device’s Recordings as Evidence in a Murder Case”


Course: IS 431 – Archives, Records and Memory (Fall 2018)

Justification: In Fall 2018, I took IS 431 “Archives, Records and Memory” with Professor Anne Gilliland and Special Reader María Montenegro. Per the course syllabus, this introductory course provides an “overview of historical and evolving conceptual foundations, major professional institutions, key practices, and contemporary issues and concerns of archival studies and the American archival profession as well as of other fields interested in archives, records and memory.” At the time, I was in the thick of my work as a Digital Archives Program Scholar for the UCLA Library’s Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT) program, and I felt that this was a very important class to take in order to understand the fundamentals of archives and records, especially in the digital realm.

The final assignment for the course was a paper that would count for 50% of our grade. We were allowed to choose one of three prompts to write about. The prompt that I chose was:

There have been many prominent legal cases and public controversies in recent years relating to digital records (e.g., NSA interception of digital communications; WikiLeaks; reliability of global warming research data; digital reconstruction of shredded Stasi informant files; analysis of police bodycam videos; Hilary Clinton and State Department email). Prepare a paper on a real-life digital case of your choice that analyzes the relevant archives, records, or recordkeeping implications and concerns.

As I was (and still am) very interested in digital records and archives, this particular paper prompt appealed to me. I chose to write about a double murder case in which an Amazon Echo device’s voice recordings were potentially going to be used as evidence in the case. Below you can find the paper’s abstract and a pdf copy of the full text of the paper, which is titled “Alexa, Who Committed the Double Homicide?: Concerns and Implications Arising from the Possible Use of Amazon’s Echo Device’s Recordings as Evidence in a Murder Case”.

I felt it important to include this paper in my portfolio as it relates to my interests in digital recordkeeping, especially regarding the issues of privacy and transparency in recordkeeping in the digital age.

Abstract: This paper discusses a double murder case, for which recordings from an Amazon Echo device at the scene of the crime were ordered to be handed over to the police as they may contain evidence of the crime. I will discuss how the recordings from Amazon’s Echo devices are no longer simply being used to improve one’s everyday interactions with Alexa, but how they are also now being used to provide evidence that could convict someone of a crime. As such, I will argue that Amazon, in its recordkeeping role, needs to better follow the SAA’s Code of Ethics and step up to be more transparent with its clients about how these Echo device recordings can be used and by whom.

Major Paper: The full text of this paper is available here.





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