Police in Arkansas are seeking 48 hours worth of recordings and responses made by an Amazon Echo.
There are certain pieces of data that Amazon will hand over to the police: A user’s personal information and purchase history seem to be fair game. But when it comes to Alexa, the company’s popular virtual personal assistant, the company is keeping its lip zipped.
Amazon is contesting a search warrant from police in Arkansas, who are seeking 48 hours worth of recordings and responses made by an Amazon Echo that belonged to a murder victim.
The company’s lawyers claim that Alexa’s recordings and responses are subject to free speech protections under the US constitution’s bill of rights, and that prosecutors need to provide more evidence that this audio is essential to the case.
“It is well established that the First Amendment protects not only an individual’s right to speak, but also his or her ‘right to receive information and ideas,'” Amazon lawyers wrote in a court filing. “At the heart of that First Amendment protection is the right to browse and purchase expressive materials anonymously, without fear of government discovery.”
Amazon also referenced a 2014 case involving Chinese search giant Baidu, where a court ruled that results returned by a search engine are protected by the First Amendment.
The heart of Amazon’s claim is that Alexa devices could provide insights into a person’s entire life, and having two days worth of audio would be an unreasonable invasion of that privacy. Knowing that law enforcement has the ability to request data from these devices and peruse them at will would have a chilling effect on people using the services—which clearly would be bad news for Amazon’s business.
“Such government demands inevitably chill users from exercising their First Amendment rights to seek and receive information and expressive content in the privacy of their own home,” Amazon lawyers wrote, “conduct which lies at the core of the Constitution.”