With Amazon Key’s launch, customers and lawyers have lots of questions
Prof: “Why would anyone want to give Amazon access to their home?”
By CYRUS FARIVAR
Nov 8 2017
Last week, Amazon announced a new voluntary service that allows its own contracted delivery personnel to temporarily access customers’ homes through a new service dubbed “Amazon Key,” which begins Wednesday, November 8.
Privacy experts have wondered what putting such a camera in the home could mean for law enforcement, particularly given last year’s episode when Amazon refused to help law enforcement in a murder case in Arkansas. There, investigators attempted to get the company to hand over data collected by a nearby Alexa. If that instance is any indication, Amazon may resist a legal demand to open up an Amazon Key lock.
Beyond concerns about the police, many on Twitter are fundamentally uncomfortable with Amazon Key.
Several lawyers have also wondered what kind of legal questions Amazon Key now poses.
“Would it be possible for a person unknowingly to authorize a law enforcement agency or a criminal to access Amazon Key?” Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, e-mailed Ars. “If a criminal gains access and some harm occurs, who is responsible? And what criminal law would apply? Also, does Amazon have in its disclaimers that law enforcement might ask for access through Amazon Key? Does Amazon plan on being transparent about this?”
Ars put these questions to Amazon, which declined to answer them on the record.
“Why would anyone want to give Amazon access to their home?” said Brian Owsley, a law professor at the University of North Texas and a former federal magistrate judge. “This is like giving Apple your fingerprints or facial features. Have packages sent to your office or buy small post office box for much less than the cost of this service, and have packages sent there. This is just a very bad idea. How long before hackers can gain access to your home just like they gained access to vehicles with computer systems?”
Plus, it’s not clear what legal standard would apply if law enforcement wanted to get at the footage. Would such a recording require a warrant? Would it be subject to the third-party doctrine? That’s the legal notion that data handed over to a third-party (here, Amazon) cannot be considered private, so the government can access it without a warrant.
“It is doubtful that law enforcement could obtain video footage, especially if it contains audio without a warrant,” Christopher Slobogin, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, e-mailed Ars.