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OVERNIGHT TECH: Court looks at cellphone privacy

THE LEDE: The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in two cases to determine whether or not police need a warrant to search a suspect’s cellphone.

Privacy rights advocates are squaring off against state and federal law enforcement officials who have defended the searches as reasonable steps to ensure that evidence isn’t lost from a person’s phone. But opponents of the searches worry that they violate the constitutional right to privacy.

“I think it raises a very significant tissue of personal privacy, given the quantity of information most people now carry around on their cellphones,” Steven Shapiro, the legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Hill. 

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“It would be equivalent to the government claiming that it had a right to search through the contents of your computer or your desk drawers or your filing cabinets without a warrant,” he added. “And we don’t think that should be the rule.”

Under the law, police can search a person and their belongings “incident to arrest,” to make sure that they aren’t carrying any weapons or evidence that could be destroyed or tossed out.

The government says that cellphones should be included in that list, so that criminals or their accomplices can’t delete potentially damning evidence.

“In today’s world, cell phones are particularly likely to contain evidence of unlawful activity and to help law-enforcement officers identify suspects they have apprehended,” the Justice Department argued in a brief filed with the court. “And unlike other containers, their contents can be destroyed or concealed after the suspect is taken into custody, making it impossible or impracticable for the police ever to retrieve critical evidence.”

“Searches of cell phones at the scene of arrest, moreover, can quickly alert officers that confederates or others are coming to the scene, helping them avoid potentially dangerous encounters,” the administration added.

The two cases before the court center around an alleged drug dealer and gang member whose phones police searched without a warrant.

In Riley v. California, which will be argued first, David Riley was stopped for having expired license plates, and police found two guns in the car. They searched his phone and found photos and videos that showed him in gang poses, and later used records to show that the phone had been used near a recent shooting. 

United States v. Wurie, the second case, deals with an alleged Boston drug dealer. Brima Wurie was arrested after police saw him in a drug deal and found drugs in his pockets. After the arrest, his cellphone was getting repeated calls from a number that police tracked to his home, where they found drugs and a gun.

Netflix, Verizon strike streaming deal: Netflix and Verizon have reached a deal to boost the streaming speed and quality of Netflix users who access the site through Verizon’s Internet service, a Netflix spokesman confirmed. “We have reached an interconnect arrangement with Verizon that we hope will improve performance for our joint customers over the coming months,” the spokesman said.

Earlier this year, Netflix struck a similar deal with Comcast and then publicly decried the deal as an “arbitrary toll.”

Franken slams Comcast spin-off plan: Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenAl Franken says he would be Clinton's vice president if asked Poll: Sanders, Rubio most popular VP picks Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate MORE is not satisfied with Comcast’s most recent move to appease regulators reviewing the company’s merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast announced Monday that it would divest systems serving 3.9 million subscribers in a three-part deal with Charter Communications that involves selling, trading and spinning off those systems.

Franken (D-Minn.), a vocal critic of the deal to combine Time Warner Cable and Comcast, said the Monday announcement is not enough to make the deal palatable.

“The fact remains that Comcast will have unprecedented power in the television and broadband markets, and I’m very concerned that Comcast will use that power to squeeze competitors and consumers,” he said in a statement.

Kerry calls telecommunications law ‘completely antiquated’: The 1996 Telecommunications Act was out of date before its first birthday, Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryBudowsky: Save Europe, revote Brexit White House: We were prepared for Brexit vote After Brexit vote, is anything left of Britain? MORE said on Monday. In remarks at a global Internet governance forum, Kerry, who at the time led the Senate subcommittee on communications, said that “within six months, the act that we passed was completely antiquated, was completely out of date.”

“That’s because we never really dealt with the issue of the management of data. It just frankly hadn’t penetrated the consciousness sufficiently that that’s where our focus was placed — obviously inappropriately so,” he added.

The remarks could give fuel to lawmakers in the House, who have recently begun the years-long process of updating the law that outlines authority for the Federal Communications Commission. The Senate has far declined to take up the effort, but Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), who chairs the communications subcommittee now, earlier this year said that it might begin the process in 2015. 

FTC’s McSweeny gets to work: Terrell McSweeny began her first day of work as the fifth commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday. McSweeny, who was confirmed by a 95-1 vote in the Senate earlier this month, officially tips the balance of the regulator towards the Democrats. Her term ends in September 2017. 

“We are very pleased that Terrell McSweeny is joining the Commission,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. “Her considerable experience in the law and public policy will be an asset to the agency as it continues to pursue its missions of protecting consumers and promoting competition.”

Library group beefs up: The American Library Association has brought on Adam Eisgrau to work on copyright and privacy issues. In addition to working on intellectual property issues at the library group in the 1990s, Eisgrau has worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Digital Future Coalition and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will testify in front of the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications on May 20, the committee announced Monday.

Different countries’ control of the Internet is increasingly dividing the world into “two different visions” reminiscent of the Cold War, Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Monday.

Bowing to pressure from abortion-rights groups, Google is removing advertisements from its site for “crisis pregnancy centers” that discourage people from having abortions.

The Department of Energy issued recommendations Monday for how the energy industry and its suppliers should build cybersecurity protections into power delivery systems.

 

Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

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