Amazon uses First Amendment to protect users’ Echo commands

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Amazon is using the First Amendment to argue that its customers’ commands to Echo devices should remain private. The company hopes to stop law enforcement from using the recordings in criminal investigations.

Customers may be unaware that their conversations with the Echo’s “Alexa” are being stored. Questions and “Alexa’s” answers are retrievable through the app.

“I think it should be my option to release recordings and have myself recorded,” Echo user Vanessa Ortolan said.

Amazon was asked to turn over the recordings during a murder investigation in Arkansas. Amazon denied the request at first and told authorities that they could obtain that information through a different source.

“By implication they said that that should also prevent them from having to hand over search histories from the Amazon Echo,” said Lansing attorney Collin Nyeholt. “I can see that would be a logical extension (of the First Amendment) because whether you’re typing a search into an Amazon search box as opposed to saying it outloud to an Amazon Echo I think that the same protection would apply.”

Users are changing the way they use and trust “Alexa” considering the Echo stores personal information such as home addresses, phone numbers and credit card numbers.

Amazon has claimed that the conversations between the user and “Alexa” are protected under free speech in the First Amendment.

“Amazon does not seek to obstruct any lawful investigation, but rather seeks to protect the privacy rights of its customers,” Amazon said in the Memorandum of Law in Support of Amazon’s Motion to Quash Search Warrant. “When the government is seeking their data from Amazon, especially when that data may include expressive content protected by the First Amendment,” the memo said.

“There is a very delicate balance that we strike in this society and what we let law enforcement do to keep us safe versus letting them go too far so we don’t become a police state,” Nyeholt said. “The unfortunate result is that there are things law enforcement could be doing more of but we say that’s too much of a violation of people’s rights were not going to let them do it even if it lets bad people off of the hook.”

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