Florida may make the police get a warrant before seizing smart-speaker data

Amazon Echo Alexa Laughing

It may soon get a bit harder for law enforcement agencies in Florida to tap Alexa for help in solving crimes. This week, the Florida state senate unanimously supported a bill that would require police and other authorities to obtain a warrant before collecting information stored on smart home devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home.

As Florida Politics reports, the proposed legislation “explicitly prohibits the collection of location and communications data stored on electronic communication devices, including cellphones.”

In the last few years, mobile and other smart devices have found themselves at the center of ongoing privacy debates, particularly in the realm of criminal investigations. There was the issue of the locked San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, and the murder that may have been overheard by Alexa in an Amazon Echo. And now, it seems as though there will often be some form of electronic device involved in criminal proceedings. But legislatures are doing what they can to ensure that law enforcement can’t just seize your smart speakers or your smartphones without due cause.

As the Florida bill’s sponsor Jeff Brandes noted, the measure is an expansion of “Fourth Amendment protections.” The bill reads, The user of a portable electronic communication device has a reasonable and justifiable expectation of privacy in the information that these devices contain.” The Florida legislature has previously praised the bill, noting that it helps to clarify “current ambiguities,” and should help guard against unconstitutional property searches — at least, in the Sunshine State.

There are a couple of exemptions to the warrant necessity outlined by the bill — for example, data that is obtained for business purposes and is not “personally identifiable” will not require a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” he noted.

Before the bill is signed into law, it will have to undergo debate in the Florida House of Representatives. A floor hearing has yet to be scheduled.