Amazon has filed a motion to dismiss a search warrant for recordings from an Echo owned by a suspected murderer. Amazon argues that both its users’ requests to Alexa and the response the company produces are protected under the First Amendment. The company says it should only have to turn this data over if law enforcement meets a high burden of proof.
The criminal case involves a man named James Andrew Bates. Bates lives in Bentonville, Arkansas and happens to own a few gadgets, including an Amazon Echo. Local police allege that Bates killed a man named Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates’ hot tub in November 2015.
Police issued a search warrant to seize all records of communications and transactions between Bates’ Echo and Amazon’s servers the day of and after Collins’ death, as well as general subscriber and account information. Amazon produced both subscriber and purchase history but hasn’t yet provided recordings or transcriptions of exchanges between Bates and the device.
The company says it shouldn’t be compelled to hand that data over because law enforcement haven’t created a compelling enough case; prosecutors must prove the data isn’t available anywhere else and that it’s sufficiently related to the subject of the investigation, Amazon argues.
Amazon points to a variety of previous cases to establish its argument. A user’s voice requests are protected under the First Amendment because it covers the “right to receive, the right to read, and freedom of inquiry” without government scrutiny. Alexa’s specific responses are also protected because its ranked search results are a “constitutionally protected opinion,” which qualified as free speech in a separate case involving Google.
As for the information not being available elsewhere, Amazon points out that if law enforcement could gain access to Bates’ phone, they could access his Alexa app and search his requests, as well as responses, from Alexa. The phone, a Nexus 6P, is encrypted, however, which has prevented police from looking through its contents.