IN A SURPRISE MOVE, Amazon has announced it is to abandon its legal battle to prevent voice recordings sent to the cloud from an Echo smart speaker being released to the FBI as part of a murder investigation.
The authorities believed that recordings taken and transmitted to the Amazon Cloud might shed light on the case of Victor Collins who was found floating in the hot tub of defendant James Bates at his home in Arkansas.
Amazon had argued that under the First Amendment, covering free speech, Bates' privacy was protected and that the data should not be released, lest it set a dangerous precedent. However, as part of his defence, Bates has confirmed that he is willing to let Amazon release the data.
Police had issued a warrant to forcibly seize all relevant data, but Amazon had objected, citing previous rulings in 2014 that search results constituted "free speech" and that it had not been given a compelling argument to override that decision.
This leaves the law in rather a mess. Technically, because Bates has agreed to the release of data, Amazon is not setting its own precedent. But by proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can release the data if it so chooses, it is likely to get tested again and again in the coming months and years until the law is clear.
The other thing we don't know is if the information will be of any use. Alexa records and simultaneously dumps constantly, and only stores information for a quarter of a second before it hears the word "Alexa" (or whatever you've chosen as your wake-word).
The police are, therefore, relying on the fact that the recordings that have been kept are either the murder taking place during a command to Alexa, or during an accidental triggering. All we really know is that the Echo was playing music at the time of the incident, and so all options are still in play. A court hearing is set for Wednesday.
More likely, of course. is that the law will stay in the same dumb mess it has been in up to now. After all - the relationship between the First Amendment and tech stems back to the early days of INQ. µ
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