Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Alexa, Do I Have To Unplug You So I Don't Violate The Attorney-Client Privilege When I Work From Home?

Bloomberg Law, Lawyers Practicing at Home Should Remember Alexa Is Listening:

AlexaAmong the ethical dilemmas posed by attorneys working from home full time due to Covid-19: what to do with Alexa or other voice activated devices that could impinge upon attorney-client confidentiality?

Devices like Alexa or Google Home present “low-level” risks for confidentiality breaches, said speakers at an online ethics panel Saturday at the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers’ annual meeting.

It’s a concern because they’re always listening to know when you say something to prompt it, said Brian S. Faughnan, a lawyer with Lewis Thomason in Memphis.

To be safe, fellow panelist Joseph A. Corsmeier, a solo practitioner in Palm Harbor, Fla. recommended unplugging voice-prompted smart devices when they’re not being used.

What to do with smart devices is just part of the challenges — and opportunities — technology presents to lawyers working from home during the pandemic.

Coronavirus, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Ah, the innocence. If your smartphone is in the room, even if turned off, it is capable of recording and when you turn it on transmitting anything you say.

Posted by: MIke Del Sol | Aug 20, 2020 10:25:32 PM

Got news for you: You'll also have to unplug your smart TV, your house phones, your cell phone, and anything else you use voice command for. Fortunately, you probably aren't important enough to hack, but anyone who's motivated enough whether by love or money can find the tools to do it.

Posted by: SDN | Aug 20, 2020 3:36:22 PM

If this concerns you, you need to also do the following: Turn off the mic on your computer, and any headset you have. Turn off Siri on any Apple device you have (iPhone, iPad, Watch, Apple TV, Mac, etc). Turn off Google Assistant on any Android device. Pull the batteries out of your TV remote. Go to your car and disable the voice controls. Also make sure you never have a conversation anywhere other than a secure enclosed space where there are no microphones on any device in the space on you or anyone with you that is not within the privilege. Also, please do not have a conversation with your client or anyone else within the privilege on any telephone or VOIP device that isn't encrypted. Only once you do that can you be confident that there is no possible breach of AC Privilege.

Or you can just avoid saying the word Alexa, and make sure that you can see the lights on your Echo to determine if you need to pause.

Posted by: Eric | Aug 20, 2020 1:58:18 PM

Why would you WANT your own personal STASI agent in your house?

Posted by: Sam L. | Aug 20, 2020 10:57:18 AM

Q: do corporate law offices have alexa ? how did they tackle issue? or is this strictly WFH issue?

if so belated a concern - what does that tell you about lawyer situationawareness!?

Posted by: hanuman_prodigious_leaper | Aug 20, 2020 10:50:15 AM

I renamed my Alexa to "Wiretap" and seldom have it plugged in.

Posted by: Robert V Sprowl | Aug 20, 2020 10:46:46 AM

And whatever else you do, don't use Windows 10. It phones home.

Posted by: Ellen | Aug 20, 2020 10:40:13 AM

Bravo Mike Perry / Wastrel. In the middle 80s, I worked for a telecom company with a CIA contract. We were required to “harden” computer keyboards since they emitted a low level radio frequency, which could have been read by listening devices outside the building.

In the late 90s, a Mayer Brown lawyer (and former Bell Lab scientist) argued that the then cell phones and portable in-house phones could be easily hacked and did not meet the attorney privacy standard. (Advances cured those issues.)

I occasionally get business emails that people send off their gmail or hotmail accounts. Since these accounts are routinely read by the companies providing a "free" email service, I make a note of the senders and ask that all emails sent to me are sent on business accounts. (Not 100% safe but not routinely read.)

Since my nephew, a computer protection expert, told me, I have used duckduckgo, which does not read my searches. Google does. (I have no popups.) By the way, if removing Google, check online. Youtube shows an additional 6 to 8 programs that Google has wormed its way into besides the main app.

I do not use Alexa, Siri, et al. I am semi-retired but I had a cyber safety clause attached to my engagement letters. Many clients were grateful and some were surprised by issues their companies were not protecting them from. Faxes are harder to intercept than emails.

Low level problem. What a joke. Just trust Google, Amazon, Apple with your clients confidential info. They can look whenever they want to.

Posted by: aircav65 | Aug 20, 2020 7:25:34 AM

This is a growing concern that the pandemic has really shone a light on - not just for work-at-home attorneys but also medical, educational, and so on. Some solutions exist, but most aren't compatible with the reason people buy Echos in the first place, which is the convenience. Unplugging a fleet of $99 smart home gear (many people have several) is far from convenient. This problem isn't going to go away.

Shameless plug: my startup company is launching BuzzOff - it's a small coaster that Echo sits on. The power runs through it and you can activate its timed/scheduled shutoff switch by voice. We (at Electric Chateau) think it's a solid solution to this new and growing problem.

Posted by: Adam Bellas | Aug 20, 2020 6:10:30 AM

Just don't have Alexa etc. around. As you are starting to realize if you are reading this article, these devices are more of an intrusion, an annoyance and a breach of privacy than a convenience.

Posted by: Wastrel | Aug 19, 2020 8:07:15 PM

If I were a lawyer with a client whose confidentially matters, I'd be doing a heck of a lot more than unplugging Alexia. I'd get a security expert to run scans of my office and home office. Spying on conversations has never been easier or cheaper.

Posted by: Mike Perry | Aug 19, 2020 11:13:17 AM