Is it really private audio when a person knowingly puts a device into their home that records what they say and states that in it’s EULA? Easy solution, don’t put the device in your home.
Prosecutors in Arkansas are attempting to set a dangerous precedent by forcing Amazon to release audio gathered by the Echo device.
Since its June 2015 release, civil liberties activists have been concerned with the dangers associated with Amazon’s Echo device. The device responds to either “wake,” “Alexa,” or “Amazon,” and records audio automatically. Echo is also capable of voice interaction and providing weather, traffic and other real-time information.
The device is a part of the growing trend towards Smart devices and appliances, which are themselves a part of the move towards Smart Homes and a completely interconnected digital Smart Grid. This Smart Grid is sometimes known as “The Internet of Things,” meant to describe a future where all smart devices (computers, phones, Amazon’s Echo, smart washer and dryers) are constantly listening and watching. These smart devices will be connected within your home, as well as to other users’ devices across the globe. This vision of a totally connected grid of digital devices is ripe for manipulation and surveillance by both the corporate entities who sell them and the governments that believe it is their right to access the public’s most private details.
This volatile situation is now becoming a reality with a recent Arkansas case involving a murder suspect and the possibility that Amazon Echo may contain valuable evidence. James Andrew Bates is charged with first-degree murder related to the death of a friend who had been drinking at his house before being found dead in a hot tub on November 22, 2015. The death was ruled a homicide and authorities found evidence of a struggle and clean-up of the crime scene. Bates has denied any involvement in the death.
Arkansas prosecutors filed for access to Bates’ Echo as part of their investigation. Amazon is now fighting back against the order, stating the the information collected by the smart device is protected by the First Amendment. Courthouse News reports:
Amazon said in court documents filed this month that it “seeks to protect the privacy rights of its customers” and has asked a state judge to block prosecutors. “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,” according to a Feb. 17 motion filed in Benton County Circuit Court.
Amazon has also said that state prosecutors have not adequately demonstrated the need for the First Amendment violation. The court filing states that “Amazon does not seek to obstruct any lawful investigation but rather seeks to protect the privacy rights of its customers when the government is seeking their data from Amazon, especially when that data may include expressive content protected by the First Amendment.”
If Arkansas law enforcement succeed in getting the judge to force Amazon to release the audio, it will another step towards eliminating privacy protections and barriers. This should also serve as a warning to those who are willing to trade privacy for convenience or entertainment. Once you give up your privacy, and thus freedom, you are not likely to get these rights back.