Amazon Defends Alexa's 1st Amendment Rights in Murder Case

Police want recordings from the suspect's Amazon Echo
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2017 3:33 PM CST
Amazon Defends Alexa's 1st Amendment Rights in Murder Case
A prosecutor investigating the death of a man whose body was found in a hot tub wants to expand the probe to include a potential new kind of evidence: the suspect’s Amazon Echo smart speaker.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Does Alexa have First Amendment rights? That's one of the questions at the heart of a legal battle between Amazon and Arkansas police. Victor Collins was found dead in James Bates' hot tub back in 2015, and Bates has been charged in his friend's murder. Believing an Amazon Echo found near the scene of the crime could hold important clues, police are seeking 48 hours worth of audio recordings—both the commands of the Echo user and the responses by its virtual assistant Alexa—from the device. But in a 90-page motion filed last week, Amazon claims those audio recordings are protected speech under the First Amendment, Forbes reports.

Amazon argues that not only would handing over the recordings possibly give the government unconstitutional access to the user's consumption of books, music, and other content, but that Alexa's responses are an extension of Amazon's protected speech. A law professor says Amazon has a "surprisingly" good case as long as Alexa is viewed as an extension of the company. Amazon says police are just hoping to find something in the recordings and must prove they're necessary to the case, Ars Technica reports. According to TechCrunch, Amazon worries about the precedent this case could set having a chilling effect as virtual assistants like Alexa continue to gain in popularity. (More Amazon stories.)

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