Amazon Says First Amendment Protects Alexa Data
Prosecutors in an Arkansas murder trial claim that an Amazon Echo could hold data crucial to the case, but Amazon says that data is protected by the First Amendment and is refusing to give it up.
The case involves a Bentonville, Ark., man accused of first-degree murder. It received national attention in December when authorities issued a warrant for data stored on the defendant's Echo, powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. In a lengthy court filing last week, Amazon said that Echo voice commands as well as Alexa data stored on the company's servers cannot be subject to a search warrant, Forbes reports.
In the filing, Amazon explains that it records Echo users' voice commands and a transcript of Alexa's responses. "Both types of information are protected speech under the First Amendment," Amazon's lawyers write.
Because of that protection, the government must show a compelling need for the data. It failed to do so in this case, Amazon writes, arguing that the judge should quash the warrant. "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," the company says.
An Amazon spokesperson told PCMag in December that it will not release customer information without a "valid and binding legal demand properly served on us."
As Amazon wrangles with the government over Alexa in court, the voice service's features continue to grow, with Wired reporting this week that more than 10,000 Alexa skills are now available, just a year and a half after Amazon opened the platform to third-party developers. Alexa skills allow users to tap a variety of external services using voice commands, from controlling smart light bulbs to accessing smartphone notifications.