Sunday, June 29, 2014

Smartphones, TV and the U.S. Supreme Court

  • In 2007, David Riley was arrested for allegedly selling drugs from his car. While he was in custody, the police found information on his smartphone that linked Riley to gang-related crimes.  Last week, in the case Riley v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that cellphones and smartphones cannot be searched by police without a warrant during arrests.  Writing in support of the court’s 9-0 decision, Justice Roberts said “A decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cell phones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives” and “with all they [smartphones] contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans theprivacies of life. The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.” Roberts also noted that “We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime.”
  • Separately, the Supreme Court ruled against Internet streaming service Aereo in the case American Broadcasting Companies Inc. v. Aereo.  The service, which was launched in February 2012 in New York City and expanded to 11 markets, used small antennas to access local over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream it across the Internet to its subscribers. The plaintiff’s concern was that Aereo did not pay fees to the broadcasters and infringed on their copyright.  Justice Breyer, in his majority opinion for the court. said “Aereo’s behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems”. Barry Dillar of IAC and a major investor in Aereo conceded defeat when he said “we did try, but it’s over now.”
MY TAKE
  • Regarding smartphones – While the court’s decision clarifies that the Fourth Amendment of U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, includes information stored on smartphones, there will likely 1) be follow-up litigation related to other types digital content such as GPS tracking, 2) additional questions about theNational Security Agency’s surveillance efforts on U.S. citizens.
  • Regarding broadcast TV – While the Aereo’s approach was clever and innovative, it assumed that broadcast TV content is free. Because the court’s ruling was based on a 6-3 decision, there are diverse views on how to interpret the Copyright Act of 1976, which seeks to address the impact of changing technologies on television, motion pictures, audio recording content.  Consumer demand for alternative content distribution will likely continue to drive innovations..

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