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- The Lancashire police force in the UK is researching ways to use Amazon Echos to provide police reports to residents as well as allow them to report crimes to Alexa.
- While this could improve public safety, privacy and security are also a concern.
A UK police force may have a new partner in crime fighting: Alexa, the digital assistant from Amazon.
Lancashire police officers are researching an integration with the digital assistant that would allow the force to send out crime bulletins to residents, such as missing persons reports, wanted suspects in the area, and the number of officers currently on duty, according to a TechSpot report. The integration could also be used for internal communications, such as to update officers on daily crime logs or breaking incidents.
However, the most interesting potential usage would directly involve residents, allowing victims and witnesses to report crimes directly to the police via their Amazon Echo—another example of how artificial intelligence (AI) tools can potentially free up human workers like police to do more complex work.
SEE: Incident response policy (Tech Pro Research)
"If we can reduce demand into our call centers via the use of voice recognition or voice-enabled technology and actually give the community the information they need without them needing to ring into police then that's massive," Rob Flanagan, the Lancashire force's innovation lead, told the College of Policing conference, according to TechSpot.
While benefits may include more convenient crime reporting and saving public resources, privacy concerns abound, as noted by our sister site ZDNet. If sent out or received through the Echo, crime reports both in and out of the police department would be stored on Amazon servers. This could especially be an issue when it comes to reporting crimes anonymously, ZDNet noted, and will be an issue the police force has to address.
This isn't the first time Alexa has been implicated in law enforcement. In January 2017, police investigating a murder in Bentonville, AR, filed a search warrant asking Amazon to provide "electronic data in the form of audio recordings, transcribed words, text records and other data" from the Echo.
Amazon refused to provide the information from its servers, but the case highlighted the privacy issues associated with always-on devices, Joel Reidenberg, founding academic director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University, told TechRepublic at the time.
The case also signalled that personal assistants and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices that can record conversations will likely be targets for subpoena in civil litigation going forward, Reidenberg said.
Since Gartner predicts that more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of IoT by 2020, enterprise users must be especially wary of what devices are deployed in their office, and when they are appropriate to have in the room—especially with the release of Alexa for Business.
- Personal digital assistants: The current lineup (TechRepublic PDF)
- Alexa for Business: 10 key takeaways (ZDNet)
- Amazon Alexa: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Watch out Windows, Android, and iOS: Amazon's Alexa is turning into the next big operating system (ZDNet)
- How one device hacked Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant so you can talk to all of them from anywhere (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.