I love technology. In many ways, it has made my job of being a lawyer a lot easier. Friends and colleagues tease me about my commercial in which I proudly proclaim that you can reach me, even after hours, “on this phone” (I proudly hold up my phone in front of my office when it is dark outside). The reason I can so easily answer the phone after hours for people injured in a car accident or arrested in Gainesville and accused of a crime is due, in part, to advances in technology. With the click of a few buttons online, I can set the call forwarding for my entire office. It is easy and allows me to stay connected with clients who need my legal help.
But there is a dark side for attorneys when it comes to technology. When the Amazon Echo was first advertised, I was an early adopter. I bought my Echo months before it was even available. I waited for it to arrive and I anxiously set it up after tearing it out of the box. At first, I liked the product and thought it was cool that I could interact with the internet and search the virtual world without a keyboard of any type. The future was here.
But my love of the Echo was short lived. I started to worry about privacy and who might be listening into my home. A few months ago, well before news broke that prosecutors in Arkansas were trying to get verbal search results from Amazon from a suspect’s Echo searches, I unplugged my Echo.
The Echo, the X-Box One, iPhone Siri, and other similar devices introduce very interesting forms of technology into our lives. Many of these technologies have microphones that are always listening and have the potential of being monitored by a third party. When I unplugged the Echo from my house, I did so because I did not really want Echo or Amazon listening to the private moments in my home. There really isn’t anything all that exciting to listen to, but it was a matter of principle. I turn the X-Box off when I’m not using it and disable the Siri function on my phone and iPad because privacy is important to me.
I thought about taking the Echo to work but then a whole different concern popped into my head. If the Echo is always listening and by extension, Amazon is always listening, and I place an Echo in my office during a confidential meeting with a client, is the meeting still privileged? Florida Statute 90.502 provides for the circumstances that allow a Florida attorney and client to have privileged communications. By extension of Florida law, a client can tell me most things about their accidents or arrests and the client can rest assured that those things remain confidential between us unless there is an explicit agreement to share that information with the world. But that privilege is non-existent if there is a third-party present during the communication. That is why I often ask mothers, fathers, children, girlfriends, boyfriends, and best friends to wait in the lobby while I discuss the details of a case with a client.
The story this week about Amazon Echo is interesting and I suspect a lot of interesting stories will emerge about technology, privacy and the law. As attorneys, Dan Glassman and I realize that we have a responsibility to make sure we are diligent about protecting our clients’ rights – including the right to privately communicate with their attorneys.
As a side note, I suspect I may have an Amazon Echo for sale on Craiglist soon. Don’t even get me started on how you must be diligent to protect your safety if you are selling items online. That is a subject for another day.