Amazon Says Your Alexa Recordings Are Protected By The First Amendment

from BuzzFeed News

Amazon is turning to the First Amendment to support its refusal to give law enforcement recordings and responses captured by the Alexa voice assistant on an Amazon Echo speaker that may help police solve a murder case.

After James Bates was charged with murdering his colleague Victor Collins in Walmart’s hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas in November 2015, police issued a search warrant for the contents of Bates’ Echo speaker. But Amazon has fired back with a 90-page brief contending that the records Alexa collected are protected free speech. Forbes has reproduced the document in full.

Bates also owned an LG Nexus cell phone, which, as Amazon noted in its brief, could contain his Echo’s recording if he had downloaded the Alexa app. Amazon has already handed over Bates’ purchase history and account information to law enforcement, but it has declined to release his speaker’s records.

In its brief, Amazon argued, “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, conduct which lies at the core of the Constitution.”

More here.

Posted in Law, Technology and tagged , , .


  1. Debating the first amendment and all of its legalities could take forever to do and it has been a common theme for the past couple of decades. The first amendment is freedom of speech and we have the right to say what we want without consequences because that is what the law states. Whatever one says in the comfort of their own home is for their ears only and the people who are in the room. With Alexa, the Amazon assistant, being in the house, nothing is private because she picks up everything that is said. Alexa must be ready to perform any possible command, so she always needs to be listening. Same situation with the iPhone’s, Siri is always listening to everything that is being said because Siri needs to do what is said. With that being said, our devices basically record every single thing we say, the question is, does it go anywhere?
    Amazon’s Echo will not hand over the voice recordings made by James Bates. Bates was charged with murder of his friend, Victor Collins. It was a very smart move by Amazon that they would not give the police the voice recordings because that defeats the whole purpose of the first amendment. If that was the case, so many innocent people would be convicted of murder because people say the craziest things nowadays and every device is listening. In reality, these devices can be used against us whenever they want, but Amazon will not allow that. It is such a great, leading decision by Amazon by telling the police they will not hand over the recordings to not per say save Bates, but to protect his rights.
    Amazon made a great case by saying that taking their voice messages is completely different from looking inside a drawer or looking inside their pockets. They also mentioned a previous court case to help their argument, which was also a smart move by Amazon. Amazon is doing everything they could to prevent destroying Bates’ first amendment and they are doing it in a major way. Of course Amazon handed the police the previous records of purchases, but that wouldn’t tell police much.
    It is just shocking that a device could be used to help a criminal investigation. If one said that years ago, we would of all looked at the person and told them they were ridiculous. One would tend to rule out anything that has to do with devices when it comes to investigations. There is no room for that in the courtroom. People say idiotic things sometimes in their home that they do not want anyone hearing that could be taken as a threat. We should not use this because it is unfair to the population and it is pleasure to hear that Amazon stands up for the people. This is a case were the Amazon Echo should be left out of and the police should focus mainly on the facts and the real investigations they tend to do when looking for evidence on a criminal.

  2. I am glad that I came across Blake Montgomery’s article because I have a home device and I hope that my recordings and responses will be kept in private as a First Amendment right. I have a Google home assistant and at times I feel uncomfortable by it. I know these devices are not recording until given their respective commands, but if I say something close to Google, my home pod will go off. They have excellent hearing as well. For example, I can talk in a normal pitch from one side of the house and the pod will go off in the other. All of these recordings are accessible and can be deleted by the user when they go on their device history selection if they wanted the information deleted. I do not know if Amazon or Google or the other companies store the information in their systems that can possibly be accessed again though. Either way, if James Bates’ trial creates a legal battle for Amazon on its device voice activity, I would hope that the recordings are interrupted as a First Amendment right or I would question owning these types of products in fear of being spied on.
    I know that the devices are not supposed to record until the command, but they are always listening. Even if I do not have anything to hide, I feel like it would be an invasion of privacy. Sometimes I wonder when my Google home assistant turns on without my command if someone is hacking into it. People have the same issues about computers and their cameras also. I do not feel like the government should step into our personal lives this deep and access all the daily activities I do on them. It would become a situation where “Big Brother” is always watching and I would most likely give the product away because it is simply a convenience item anyway that could turn into a spy item.
    Technology is expanding and becoming more personal through the years through “smart” products that are so new that the government is behind in defining regulations and standards that they feel are necessary. As Montgomery said that the Amazon Alexa is selling out over the 2016 winter, even though there is no privacy measure established yet. The day the government can use the device for trials is he day that there will be thousands of these devices in the trash, slowing down the potential of personal technology. All in all, people like their privacy and the Amazon Alexa’s recordings should be seen as a First Amendment right in my eyes.

  3. Technology is amazing and needs to be used for advantages especially in this case with Alexa. I was very surprised to read that Amazon would not turn over recordings that could help in a murder case. I completely respect Amazon for denying to do so that they can protect our first Amendment right, because if they turn the recordings over in this situation then they will have to turn it over in every other situation. Nevertheless, I believe why even make Alexa able to record conversations if you will not use that to your advantage. A significant amount of people already know that the United States Government is spying on us, so why would in this situation anything be different. Amazon has recordings that could be very important in solving a murder case so they need to turn it over and move on. Why would Amazon even allow Alexa to make recordings if they will not take those recordings to help out other people. What was the point of making Alexa being able to record people? Was it just for fun, or something else that Amazon does not want to share with people. I think Amazon should turn in the recordings so that they can help to get this case solved.
    On another important note, I think that it really does stink that we live in a country where privacy is really starting to go away. Amazon was able to create this really cool invention, in Alexa, but the downside is that it can record us and we are never alone. Alexa is not the only thing that is able to record us nowadays, because basically anything that is technology related can track us and send that information to people that want it. In some situations, this can be a good thing because maybe you want people to know where you are at, but the bad thing is the fact that we are never in private. Technology has gotten to the point where we will never be alone and always have someone watching us through whatever device we have. Always remember technology is really good until it goes against you because it knows what you did.

  4. I can understand why Amazon would fight this battle because what manufacturer would want to easily give over information that could cause consumers to lose trust in their product? People are already skeptical of what is being recorded and could possibly be later used against them. People’s expectation when they purchase an item, such as the echo,s is that their privacy would be protected.

    While I think we have a right to privacy I also think that we as consumers have to be very careful as to how we use technology. We can never just expect that our activity on any device is ours alone. Once it is put into cyberspace it belongs to those who know how to manipulate it as well as those who may know how to use it to their advantage, such as law enforcement. Not only do we have to be concerned with government but there’s also the possibility that regular citizens may have knowledge that can get them access to our information without our permission. There is a need for prospective buyers to know what the possibilities are when it comes to what they think may be protected or what they think is private. Just because something is in your home or on a device that “belongs” to you does not mean that it cannot be used against you at some point.

    It was interesting to see that in this particular case the individual that was being accused of murder did later hand over the data from his Echo device even though Amazon’s legal team did not see the legal basis for him to have to do so (The Verge, March 2017). Equally interesting was seeing that a judge later dropped the charges against James Bates (CNN, December 2017). I will be keeping watch to see how this First Amendment fiasco plays out.

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