Amazon has abandoned its legal battle to protect its Alexa assistant with First Amendment rights — for now at least. The company filed a motion against a police search warrant in an Arkansas murder case earlier this month, but has now dropped the case after the defendant agreed to hand over the data contained on his Echo speaker to police.
In documents filed last Monday, defendant James Andrew Bates said that he was willing to allow law enforcement officials to review information contained on his Amazon Echo speaker, before the company handed the data over on Friday. Bates has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Victor Collins, who was found dead in Bates’ hot tub in November 2015.
Police had issued a warrant to seize subscriber and account information from Bates’ Echo, as well as all communication and transaction history from the device. Amazon provided the former, but argued against providing communication data, claiming that voice interactions with Alexa were protected by the First Amendment. That includes Alexa’s replies to a user — Amazon claims that ranked search results are “constitutionally protected opinion.” Precedent for that argument was set by a 2014 case in which Google search results were classified as “free speech” by a San Francisco court, after a news website complained that its own pages were too far down the company’s listings.
Amazon argued that police didn’t have enough of a compelling argument in Bates’ case for it to hand over the data, with officials unable to prove that any potential information would not be available anywhere else. It remains to be seen whether Bates’ Echo does indeed have any pertinent information — a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday this week. The defendant’s acquiescence also means that we don’t yet have a definitive answer on whether Alexa is indeed protected by the First Amendment.