Amazon Won’t Back Down: Claims Alexa’s Speech Is Protected by the First Amendment


Amazon continues refusing to hand over Alexa data to law enforcement. While the company gives access to user's personal information and purchase history, its personal assistant is where the tech giant is trying to resist law enforcement's data access demands.

Investigators just can't catch Alexa

In an Arkansas murder investigation, the company has refused to hand over audio recordings of an Echo. The company claims that Alexa queries and responses are subject to free speech protections and that the prosecutors need to furnish more evidence that this data is crucial to the case.

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In a court filing, Amazon's lawyers argued that both the voice commands and Alexa's replies are protected by the First Amendment.

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. At the heart of that First Amendment protection is the right to browse and purchase expressive materials anonymously, without fear of government discovery.

The government's demand of getting access to 48 hours worth of recordings and responses, therefore, should be subjected to a "heightened standard," Amazon said. The company added that the prosecutors must prove they can't find the information elsewhere and furnish evidence that the recordings and responses made by the Amazon Echo that belonged to the murder victim are crucial to the case.

The company doesn't believe if prosecutors have established a compelling case for the importance of Alexa data in the case. Even if the warrant is upheld, Amazon wants the court to review the data before handing it over to ensure that it's indeed relevant to the case.

Amazon already gave access to victim's purchase history and user information

The company made it clear in the motion that its intention is not to obstruct any lawful investigation. Amazon has already given authorities access to the victim's purchase history and user information. However, Alexa data "may" include content that is protected by the First Amendment.

The company "seeks to protect the privacy rights of its customers when the government is seeking their data [...] especially when that data may include expressive content protected by the First Amendment.

Amazon also pointed out that the authorities could get access to the recordings if the victim installed the Alexa app on his Nexus phone. However, since his device was encrypted, law enforcement will have to go through the same troubles that they went to break into the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone.

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While it's unclear if the court will side with Amazon, and if Amazon's intentions are purely user privacy-focused or just a business move, the company does have an important point. As it explained, Alexa devices could provide insights into a person's entire life. The demand of getting access to 2 days worth of recordings would be a definite invasion of user privacy. While it may or may not help the authorities in the investigation, Amazon is worried about its users being cautious about using its services in the privacy of their homes.

"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's lawyers wrote.