By Ken Winterbottom
Aereo shut down by Supreme Court ruling
In Wednesday’s 6-3 decision in American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Aereo, a startup company offering streams of TV shows over the internet shortly after the programs are originally broadcast, holding that the company’s business practices violate the Copyright Act of 1976. The majority opinion, written by Justice Breyer, ruled that Aereo’s services constituted a “public performance” within the meaning of the Act.
Justice Scalia, in an opinion joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, dissented, calling the majority’s “looks-like-cable-TV” rule ad hoc and confusing.
The defeat has been heralded as the end for Aereo, which did not have a “plan B” in the event of an unfavorable decision, according to CEO Chet Kanojia. Some commentators have also warned that it may prove to be a death knell for cloud storage services, though Justice Breyer made it clear that that was a question for another day, expressly limiting the decision’s applicability to broadcast television.
Obama administration promises privacy rights to the EU
In the wake of the 2013 Edward Snowden scandal, members of the European Union expressed widespread concern that their privacy rights were being violated. On Wednesday, the Guardian reports, the Obama administration pledged to pass legislation granting EU citizens many of the same privacy rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens.
The pledge arguably goes a step further than previous attempts to smooth over damaged post-Snowden U.S.-EU relations, of which European governments were skeptical, calling for concrete action rather than vague promises. However, commentators have already expressed doubt about this most recent move, noting that it will be difficult for the Obama administration to push this “undoubtedly controversial” legislation through Congress.
Massachusetts Supreme Court upholds decryption order
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a criminal suspect may constitutionally be forced to type in a decryption password, in spite of the Fifth Amendment’s right to protect against self-incrimination.
In a 5-2 decision, the court noted that the government already had knowledge of what was on the defendant’s computer, and even what his encryption key was, and limited its holding to that context, stating that the prosecution’s “motion to compel decryption does not violate the defendant’s rights under the Fifth Amendment because the defendant is only telling the government what it already knows.”
Despite the fact-specific nature of the holding, some commentators, such as ACLU attorney Jessie Rossman, expressed disappointment with the decision, which has been called a step back for privacy.
Meanwhile, judicial consensus on the question is lacking, with the Eleventh Circuit having come out the other way in 2012. In 2013, federal judges in Wisconsin disagreed as to whether or not the Fifth Amendment applies in such cases. Wednesday’s Massachusetts decision is only the next case in a growing jurisdictional split, which may eventually be left for the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve.