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 usersâ€™ 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 Batesâ€™ hot tub in November 2015.
Police issued a search warrant to seize all records of communications and transactions between Batesâ€™ Echo and Amazonâ€™s servers the day of and after Collinsâ€™ death, as well as general subscriber and account information. Amazon produced both subscriber and purchase history but hasnâ€™t yet provided recordings or transcriptions of exchanges between Bates and the device.
The company says it shouldnâ€™t be compelled to hand that data over because law enforcement havenâ€™t created a compelling enough case; prosecutors must prove the data isnâ€™t available anywhere else and that itâ€™s sufficiently related to the subject of the investigation, Amazon argues.
Amazon points to a variety of previous cases to establish its argument. A userâ€™s voice requests are protected under the First Amendment because it covers the â€œright to receive, the right to read, and freedom of inquiryâ€ without government scrutiny. Alexaâ€™s specific responses are also protected because its ranked search results are a â€œconstitutionally protected opinion,â€ 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 Batesâ€™ 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.