Alexa and Your Private Information

Alexa and your private informationThe Fifth Amendment provides each of us with a Constitutional protection against self-incrimination.  This is a foundation for an assumed right to personal privacy.  Unfortunately, Alexa (and possibly other home automation devices) may give the authorities an unintended and unauthorized opportunity to monitor our conversations, in the privacy of our homes, without a subpoena.  As a recent news report illustrates, there may be a conflict between Alexa and your private information.

A Portland, Oregon family was shocked to learn that Alexa had recorded conversations between the couple and actually sent recordings to another person.  Amazon, who owns the operating system know as “Alexa” that is used on its Amazon Echo devices, admits that this is an “extremely rare occurrence.”  Actually, however, they wouldn’t that admit that the devices are:

  • Capable of recording private conversations without the owner’s knowledge
  • Possibly monitoring conversations even without being prompted
  • Capable of sending the recordings without the knowledge of the owner

Link to News Story:

Why this Matters

As a Louisville criminal defense attorney, one of the ways I protect the rights of my clients is by determining if certain evidence, especially audio and video recordings, was illegally obtained.  When I am able to get evidence suppressed, or “thrown out,” all of the “downstream” evidence gathered as a result typically also has to be eliminated as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

The conflict between Alexa and your private information short-circuits your Constitutional right to due process.

As more and more of these devices are adopted by homeowners, the capability, and yes, the probability, that “inadvertent” snooping is increasing drastically.  Even if you’re in a friend’s home, your private conversations could be recorded and potentially used against you or him, either out of context, or in other ways that violate your freedoms.

There are stories in the news about fears related to the NSA scooping up cell phone data.  Even the DEA has the capability to wiretap.  In reality, many homeowners are practically opening the door to a potential warrantless search by some law enforcement agency.

I’m not recommending you throw away your Amazon Echo or other device, but you need to be very aware of the potential risks of having this type of device active in your environment and take active steps to contain them.  I may be able to get some evidence tossed out, but in the event I can’t, it is very difficult, often damning, to dispute, controvert, or argue against something stated in your own words.