It turns out that searching through the digital contents of a person’s mobile phone is more intrusive than rifling through an address book, wallet, or purse. Correspondingly, police may no longer perform such a search without a warrant. Privacy advocates are hailing the Supreme Court’s decision last Wednesday in Riley v. California as a victory of common sense and rationality over blind adherence to doctrine. But just a few minutes before the Riley decision appeared online, the Court handed down its ruling in ABC v. Aereo, holding that the company’s use of tens of thousands of dime-sized micro-antennas to stream broadcast television over the internet was a form of copyright infringement. The Court’s decision in Aereo has so far seen a far cooler reception than its one in Riley, with some fearing that the majority’s reasoning could potentially chill innovation.
Let’s be honest: Riley and Aereo barely have anything to do with each other. One is a Fourth Amendment case, the other is about copyright infringement. And while there is some crossover in the tech policy world, there aren’t many public defenders who run a side business litigating civil intellectual property disputes, nor are there many IP attorneys who spend their days off arguing the exclusionary rule. The only reason these two cases have so often been cited in parallel is that they were handed down within minutes of each other, and they both relate to technology. That said, what these two cases do illustrate is just how much trouble the Supreme Court, and, by extension the entire legal system, has with new technologies. And what we need to ask is why, doctrinal technicalities aside, so many see Riley as coming out the “right” way while Aereo is viewed as a “bad” result. Read more » about Riley, Aereo, and the "Arthur C. Clarke Rule"