Don't Let the Feds Rummage Through Cell Phones

[Commentary] When most human activities involve screens and sensors that automatically save data on remote computers, what legal standards should constrain law enforcement's access to that distant information?

It's essential that we get this right, because mobile phones are just plastic boxes that gather and generate data for distant use.

What's important about the handset is the link it provides between a person and all that data. Beyond accessing immediate, on-the-spot communications to protect the safety of arresting officers, any further examination of a phone at the time of an arrest should be made by law enforcement only under the supervision of a judicial officer.

Law enforcement officials often maintain that the advent of the digital era means they need broad new authority to track and apprehend criminals. They call the digitization of information "going dark."

But the reality of mobile-phone technology, and the power we humans allow mobile phones to have over our life patterns, belies this claim. Rather than going dark, these digital times are allowing law enforcement to shed more light on human lives than ever before. We shouldn't let this happen without independent judicial oversight.

[Crawford is the John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property, Harvard Law School]

Apple, Google and the Hubris of Silicon Valley's Hiring Conspiracy

[Commentary] The tech aristocrats, who from 2005 through 2009 secretly forged a series of no-recruit agreements, suspected what they were doing wasn’t quite kosher. But why did they think they could get away with it?

And now that they’ve been exposed, what does the episode tell us about the nature of a corporate culture built on the labor of a relatively well-paid but evidently exploited cohort of digitally talented serfs? Well, they did kinda get away with it.

The $324 million Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe agreed to pay works out to about 0.4 percent of their combined total revenue for the most recent quarter. The individual plaintiffs will end up with a few thousand dollars apiece. It’s unlikely, moreover, that the defendants will suffer any lasting taint when it comes to new hires.

One reason the bosses had the cojones to try this caper is that Apple and Google in particular are the dream factories of America’s digital and marketing elites.

T-Mobile Adds More Customers Than AT&T, Verizon Combined

T-Mobile US added more subscribers in the first quarter than AT&T and Verizon Communications combined, heightening the carrier’s allure as Sprint pursues a merger.

Promotions and cheaper plans helped T-Mobile add 1.3 million new monthly subscribers in the period, topping the 998,000 projected by analysts and the 1.16 million customers that AT&T and Verizon added combined.

The subscriber growth came at a cost: T-Mobile’s fourth quarterly loss in a row. Sprint plans to push forward with a bid for T-Mobile after meeting with banks to make debt arrangements for that offer, Bloomberg News reported, citing people with knowledge of the situation.

T-Mobile Chief Executive Officer John Legere is delivering on a promise to shake up the US wireless industry. The fourth-largest US carrier has been on a campaign to lure customers away from larger rivals by providing financing for phones, cheap international rates and as much as $650 to people who switch service.

FBI Keeps Internet Flaws Secret to Defend Against Hackers

The Obama Administration is letting law enforcement keep computer-security flaws secret in order to further US investigations of cyberspies and hackers.

The White House has carved out an exception for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to keep information about software vulnerabilities from manufacturers and the public.

Until now, most debate has focused on how the National Security Agency stockpiles and uses new-found Internet weaknesses, known as zero-day exploits, for offensive purposes, such as attacking the networks of adversaries.

The law enforcement operations expose a delicate and complicated balancing act when it comes to agencies using serious security flaws in investigations versus disclosing them to protect all Internet users, according to former government officials and privacy advocates.

Motorola Mobility, Samsung Escape EU Fines in Apple Clash

Motorola Mobility and Samsung Electronics avoided fines as European Union antitrust regulators said “patent wars” with Apple shouldn’t allow consumers to get caught in the crossfire.

Motorola Mobility, which Google is selling to Lenovo Group, broke EU antitrust law when it sought and enforced a German legal injunction against Apple over patents for technology for industry-standard products such as mobile phones, the European Commission said. Samsung and the EU finalized a settlement that ends a similar antitrust probe.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU’s competition chief, said the EU’s decisions provide “legal clarity on the circumstances in which injunctions to enforce standard essential patents can be anti-competitive.”

The EU is cracking down on patent abuses as Motorola Mobility, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung trade victories in courts across the world on intellectual property. Industry-standard technology helps ensure products such as mobile-phone antennas and global-positioning system software can operate together when made by different manufacturers.

AT&T to Offer In-Flight Wi-Fi in Challenge to Gogo

AT&T the second-biggest US mobile-phone carrier, will introduce 4G LTE wireless Internet access to commercial flights, mounting a challenge to Wi-Fi provider Gogo.

With help from Honeywell International, AT&T will begin offering the service in the continental US as soon as late 2015 for in-flight Wi-Fi Internet connections and entertainment, as well as for cockpit communications, according to a statement.

AT&T would be the first provider of 4G LTE to planes, said Roger Entner, an analyst with Recon Analytics in Dedham, Massachusetts.

“The service could potentially be faster, since you don’t have to bounce up to a satellite,” he said. The service will use ground-based antennas aimed skyward at receivers on planes, AT&T Strategy Chief John Stankey said in a phone interview.

Pending final approval from regulators, AT&T will use some of the Wireless Communications Service, or WCS, spectrum it acquired in 2012 to transmit the LTE signal to the planes, Stankey said.

In Baker, CTIA Gets a Spectrum Czar -- and at a Crucial Time

Nearly six months after launching a nationwide executive search to find a replacement for its retiring president and CEO, Steve Largent, CTIA-The Wireless Association finally has a new leader.

And it didn’t have to look too far, either. Meredith Attwell Baker, the former Republican Federal Communications Commissioner and acting administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will take over as president and CEO of CTIA on June 2.

In Baker, CTIA is getting an influential Washington insider and lobbyist who has a deep understanding of spectrum policy -- at a time when both the FCC and the NTIA are carrying out an ambitious Obama Administration plan to double the country’s supply of airwaves for use in high-speed wireless Internet service by 2020.

In a statement accompanying the news release, Baker wasted no time in outlining three spectrum policy priorities. Specifically, she said she will “place more emphasis on technical and engineering expertise related to spectrum and wireless technologies; work with commercial and government users to produce a viable five-year plan for the future of spectrum usage; and begin to regularly assess how efficiently spectrum is being used.”

Amazon Sales Take a Hit in States With Online Tax

Amazon is taking a hit in states that are collecting an online sales tax. In one of the first efforts to quantify the impact of states accruing more tax revenue from web purchases, researchers at Ohio State University published a paper that found sales dropped for Amazon when the online charge was introduced.

In states that have the tax, households reduced their spending on Amazon by about 10 percent compared to those in states that don’t have the levy. For online purchases of more than $300, sales fell by 24 percent, according to the report titled “The Amazon Tax.” The findings add to concerns about how much the world’s largest online retailer can expand.

The company has been grappling with decelerating revenue growth amid heavy spending by Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos on new initiatives. Amazon has enjoyed an edge against brick-and-mortar retailers because consumers didn’t have to pay a sales tax for purchases from the e-commerce site, yet that has eroded as states including California and Texas have unveiled the levies.

Comcast Adds Cable-TV Customers Again, Bucking Industry

Comcast is having no problem getting bigger. The largest US cable company added video customers for a second straight quarter, bucking the industry trend of losing TV subscribers.

Video subscriber growth and the Winter Olympics helped first-quarter profit of 68 cents a share, excluding some items, beat the 64 cents analysts estimated on average. Comcast also reported that revenue rose to $17.4 billion. Analysts had predicted $17 billion.

Bolstered by its new X1 digital set-top box that gives people the ability to watch TV shows stored online, Comcast added 24,000 TV customers in the quarter to reach a total of 22.6 million.

Zebra Pays $3.5 Billion for Motorola Tracking Technology

Zebra Technologies is buying a unit of Motorola Solutions for $3.45 billion, borrowing most of the amount for a bet on mobile-computing services for businesses that need to track employees and products.

Zebra plans to fund the deal with about $200 million of cash and $3.25 billion in new debt. That’s almost as much as Zebra itself is worth, based on the closing stock price, which valued the company at about $3.4 billion. Both companies offer bar-code scanning, radio-frequency identification and other technology that companies can use to control their inventory, whether it’s retailers stocking shelves or hospitals recording doses of medicine.

Motorola also has specialized tablets and computers for various industries.