Alexa, are you listening to me? Technology has become an integral part of one’s everyday life with voice-controlled devices pervading our most intimate interactions and spaces within the home. The answers to our questions are now at our fingertips with the simple roll of the tongue “Alexa,” your very own personal intelligence assistant. This futuristic household tool can perform tasks that range from answering simple voice commands to ordering any online shopping. However, the advent of voice technology presents a myriad of problems. Concerns arise as these new devices live in the privacy of our homes while quietly listening for a “wake word” to record us—whether knowingly or unbeknownst to the owner or those nearby. This information is thereafter collected by Amazon and stored on its server.
Traditionally, the Fourth Amendment evolved through case law to provide citizens with protections when in the intimacy of one’s home. Despite these protections, the third-party doctrine peels away a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy when data or information is exposed to third parties.
Thus, the question posed is whether there is any Fourth Amendment protection when information is digitally shared with other third parties, such as Amazon’s Alexa? Further, what is even considered one’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the modern digital world? Our generation is accustomed to surrendering a vast amount of personal and private information, particularly from current whereabouts through Facebook and Instagram check-ins and recent inquiries that are stored in search engine histories. This leaves an ascertainable digital trail to track where you have been, who your friends and family are, and even what you are thinking. How much of this digital information is obtainable by the government? Can this futuristic device—Amazon’s Alexa—that we keep on our nightstands or kitchen tables actually be used against us?
Part I of this comment will present a series of murder cases that demonstrate the current legal stance of trial courts on this particular legal issue. Part II will describe how Alexa works and why Amazon would want to gather this information. Part III recapitulates the evolution of Fourth Amendment case law, particularly the privacy in a search, the admissibility for a man’s private papers to be used as evidence against himself, and the sanctity of a man’s home. Part IV discusses third-party doctrine case law and how this strips away all Fourth Amendment protections, and Part V analyzes the prior case law and proposes a modern application to the third-party doctrine.
Julia R. Shackleton Esq.,
Alexa, Amazon Assistant or Government Informant?,
27 U. MIA Bus. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.miami.edu/umblr/vol27/iss2/6