Friday February 24, 2017

Amazon Argues Alexa Speech Protected by First Amendment in Murder Trial Fight

Amazon has entered into a fight to protect consumer data. Amazon's Echo will record voices when listening for commands to answer questions or order products from Amazon. The device was installed into a home where a murder took place and the police are seeking access to 48 hours of recordings from the device. Amazon is arguing that responses of the artificially intelligent Amazon Alexa speech program embedded into the device is covered by the First Amendment and thus has rights.

Amazon handed over the subscriber and purchase history of the registered owner of the device. But the audio recordings are what it is claiming are covered by the First Amendment. It wants the warrant for the information thrown out. Amazon is stating that Alexa is Amazon's speech which is already covered under the First Amendment. Also Google set a precedent with it's ranking search results as those are covered as "constitutionally protected opinion" and entitled to "full constitutional protection." Amazon seeks to block the government from treading on a citizen's constitutional right to free speech within their own homes.

This brings up an interesting point. Many times we fantasize about having robot waiters, autonomous cars, robotic maids, etc. If a citizen were to have a conversation with a robotic entity and command it to perform a murder, would this not be covered by the First Amendment? Or would it be open season on the owner because his robot recorded the conversation? Could the robots of the future be programmed with a backdoor to automatically contact the police if certain keywords are used within earshot of it? What rights are we willing to give up with new privacy laws and which would we want to preserve? Amazon says that the government should supply compelling data to justify the warrant. How would you see search warrant laws changing in the future?

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Toni Massaro, professor at the University of Arizona College of Law, said that "the free speech arguments that favor 'machine speech' are surprisingly plausible under current doctrine and theory," pointing to a paper she co-authored on the subject.

"Of course, Amazon itself has free speech rights. As long as Alexa can be seen as Amazon, there is a protected speaker here," she noted.

Professor Massaro added that algorithms are tough to categorize and may not class as speech. "And even if they are speech, they may not always be protected from government regulation. That something may be covered by the First Amendment does not mean it is protected."