Amazon cites First Amendment protection for Alexa in Arkansas murder case

Late last year, it was revealed that Amazon’s Echo had become a key piece of evidence in an on-going murder investigation in Arkansas dating back to 2015, as police sought access to voice recordings from the smart home assistant. Now the tech giant is firing back, arguing that both user commands and Alexa’s responses constitute protected speech.

In a lengthy filing issued late last week, Amazon is pushing back against requests, arguing that while it has already complied with requests pertaining to user purchase history, “[gi]iven 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 material.”

The company explains that, while it intends not to obstruct the investigation, releasing the records to governing bodies would violate consumer privacy rights, citing a ruling the company was involved in back in 2010, “[t]he fear of government tracking and censoring one’s reading, listening and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

In that case, Amazon and the ACLU argued that the First Amendment protected the company from having to hand over customer records to the North Carolina Department of Revenue.

This latest filing also notes the Echo’s popularity, serving as both a bit of self-promotion, while also laying the groundwork for the suggestion that open up such records could set a bad precedent, as these sort of assistants grow in popularity in the home, adding to increasing privacy concerns around the microphone-sporting cloud-connected devices.

The Echo became a key component of the 2015 murder case when police seized the device in hopes of gaining some insight into a night in late November that ended in the death of Arkansas resident Victor Collins.