Broadband Roundup: Supreme Court Upholds Privacy and Copyright, Plus FCC’s Wheeler Talks Net Neutrality in Silicon Valley

Broadband's Impact, Net Neutrality June 26th, 2014

, Reporter, Broadband Breakfast News

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2014 – The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that a search warrant is necessary for police to search the digital content of an arrested individual’s cell phone.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, held that the contents of mobile phones are protected under the Fourth Amendment: “modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. 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.”

The decision will somewhat limit the “ability of law enforcement to combat crime,” the court noted that some “exigent circumstances” might permit case-by-case exceptions to the rule, as where “officer safety” were to be at risk.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the decision was “a wake-up call that we need to update our laws to keep pace with technological advances.” He said the court’s logic needs to be extended to government searches of personal email, and called for congressional passage of his bipartisan update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

In a 6-3 split  decision, the Supreme Court also ruled that the Internet video service Aereo had engaged in copyright infringement. The service, which allows users to watch and record local broadcast television channels on computers and mobile devices for $8 per month, was held to have engaged in a “public performance” under the Copyright Act, and hence requiring permission from TV networks to make use of the content.

“Given Aereo’s overwhelming likeness to the cable companies targeted by [copyright law], this sole technological difference between Aereo and traditional cable companies does not make a critical difference here.”

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, arguing that the court was stretching copyright law beyond its intended meaning.

“It is not the role of this Court to identify and plug loopholes,” they wrote. “It is the role of good lawyers to identify and exploit them, and the role of Congress to eliminate them if it wishes.”

Gordon Smith, CEO and President of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement: “Television broadcasters will always welcome partnerships with companies who respect copyright law. Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message that businesses built on the theft of copyrighted material will not be tolerated.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler met with venture capitalists from startups and mid-size companies in Silicon Valley this week to hear their thoughts on net neutrality, according to Re/code.

Attendees included representatives from Y Combinator, Mozilla, public interest group Engine Advocacy, content delivery network Cloud Flare, Yelp and Square.

“An Open Internet is an essential foundation for startups to build upon, so very glad that Chairman Wheeler is spending time in Silicon Valley meeting with entrepreneurs, tech execs and investors,” said Homebrew’s Hunter Walk according to Re/code.

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