Take a count of how many microphones are around your right now — your phone, of course, which is probably always listening, and your laptop most likely. Your TV? Perhaps, if it’s new enough. Your wireless speaker probably has a microphone, too, for speakerphone functions. Your smartwatch might have a microphone. There are even smart refrigerators cropping up with integrated microphones (for voice commands, not spying), and, of course, dedicated personal assistants like Amazon Echo and Tap. How many of those microphones has the FBI tapped?
Given the glut of news about the extent of the government’s spying — not to mention its persistent legal battles to ensure it has access to data or help in its efforts to access that data — it’s no surprise that the everyday “nothing-to-hide” consumer is worried about their privacy. If you were to buy, say, an Amazon Echo, is it possible the FBI could tap into it to keep track of your actions?
Of course it is possible. But has it done so? The agency won’t say.
In recent weeks, Gizmodo’s Matt Novak sent a Freedom of Information request asking whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation has ever wiretapped an Amazon Echo device. In a grand non-answer response, he was sent back a letter saying:
Please be advised that, upon reviewing the substantive nature of your request, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to your request … the mere acknowledgement of whether or not the FBI has any such records in and of itself would disclose techniques, procedures, and/or guidelines that could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law. Thus, the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of any records.
Make of that what you will.