Amazon refuses to hand over Alexa data in murder investigation

Amazon refuses to hand over Alexa data in murder investigation

Cites first amendment protection for Alexa data against warrant in Arkansas slaying

Amazon police 911 call

Amazon is refusing access to data stored in the cloud from its Alexa AI assistant to police in Arkansas, citing that any information it is holding is protected by the First Amendment.

The Bentonville Police Department in Arkansas wanted to look at recorded voice and transcription data from an Echo device as part of a murder investigation. They are investigating the death of Victor Collins, who was found dead in a hot tub at a friend’s home in November 2015. James Andrew Bates, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, according to reports from AP.

Prosecutors asked a court to force Amazon to provide the data the Echo may have collected as the device listens for a user’s voice and then responds to commands.

In a response on Friday, Amazon said that any data recorded or generated by the device is protected by the First Amendment, as are the responses from the voice assistant itself. It also said that prosecutors must prove the data isn’t available elsewhere.

Amazon also said that it wants the court to review any recordings before turning them over to authorities to make sure these are relevant to the case.

“Given the important First Amendment and privacy implications at stake, the warrant should be quashed unless the Court finds that the State has met its heightened burden for compelled production of such materials,” Amazon said in court documents.

“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, conduct which lies at the core of the Constitution. To guard against such a chilling effect, this Court should require the State to make a prima facie showing that it has a compelling need for any recordings that were created as a result of interactions with the Echo device, and that the State’s request bears a sufficient nexus to the underlying investigation.”

“Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course,” the company said in a statement.

Related: Alexa comes to cars courtesy of new Logitech Car Assistant app

Company responsibilities

Rafael Laguna, CEO at Open-Xchange, told Internet of Business that companies whose business model is based upon collecting and storing data have a responsibility to protect that data, and only use it in situations to which the customer has given their express consent.

“Perhaps companies could add an additional consent option when customers sign up to their services for this type of situation,” he suggested.

Lee Munson, security researcher at Comparitech.com, told IoB that police and other agencies within the UK are well within their rights to ask Amazon and other companies for absolutely anything.

“That doesn’t mean they’ll get it, though,” he added. “With Amazon being a global company, I would expect its stance over any data obtained through an Echo device to be consistent across all the countries it operates in.

“For British law enforcement to be successful, it would require a warrant signed by a judge – who would need to be convinced of the merits of the investigation versus the potential invasion of privacy it would cause in the case in question – and beyond.”

Related: Orbita looks to empower patients with Alexa


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