The Amazon case: should robts give evidence in legal proceedings?


By Albert Agustinoy and Blanca Puig, Cuatrecasas
By Albert Agustinoy and Blanca Puig, Cuatrecasas

By Albert Agustinoy and Blanca Puig.

According to a recent publication by, Amazon alleges that it is protected by the First Amendment and refuses to provide a US court with the recordings of Alexa, the voice of its artificially intelligent speaker, for a murder trial. This poses the question whether voice files created by interactive devices are subject to being disclosed or, on the contrary, are protected by the right to privacy (under the First Amendment of the US Constitution).

This is the second case picked up by the media in which a leading technology company refuses to give the US authorities access to recordings on its devices.  While the first case involved Apple (which we analyzed in this blog), which refused to provide a back door by which to hack the IOS and thus gain access to information on the iPhone of an alleged terrorist in the San Bernardino shooting, in this case Amazon is at the center of the dispute. The Seattle-based company refuses to provide the possible recordings by its voice command system called Alexa in a murder trial in which a man allegedly killed a friend in the hot tub at his home. The house was connected to the Amazon Echo home automation system, which enables all intelligent devices in the home to be connected simultaneously by voice control, simply by saying the name assigned to the device.

In this case, the Arkansas police believe that the victim’s Alexa device may have recorded what happened on the night of the murder, as occasionally the device is activated and records the sounds around it. On February 17, Amazon contested the warrant, arguing that it would not provide the device’s recordings, as that could clash with the rights of free speech and privacy protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

In particular, Amazon argues that the Alexa recordings are protected as expressive content and that Amazon cannot infringe its users’ rights by providing the police with access to the recordings without a duly motivated warrant, based on clear evidence upholding the suspected occurrence.

This is a good example of the level of effort of interpretation that will be required with the increasing interaction with devices connected to and operating with artificial intelligence systems. We will be closely following the outcome of this case, especially if the American legal system makes a statement on the subject.