Court case

Developments in telecommunications policy being made in the legal system.

Tech firm is fighting a federal order for data on visitors to an anti-Trump website

A Los Angeles-based tech company is resisting a federal demand for more than 1.3 million IP addresses to identify visitors to a website set up to coordinate protests on Inauguration Day — a request whose breadth the company says violates the Constitution.

“What we have is a sweeping request for every single file we have” in relation to DisruptJ20.org, said Chris Ghazarian, general counsel for DreamHost, which hosts the site. “The search warrant is not only dealing with everything in relation to the website but also tons of data about people who visited it.” The request also covers emails between the site’s organizers and people interested in attending the protests, any deleted messages and files, as well as subscriber information — such as names and addresses — and unpublished photos and blog posts that are stored in the site’s database, according to the warrant and Ghazarian.

Judge says LinkedIn can't block startup from user’s public data

A federal district court judge on Aug 14 said that LinkedIn cannot block a startup company from accessing users' public profile data. Judge Edward Chen in the northern district of California granted hiQ labs, an employment startup, a preliminary injunction that forces LinkedIn to remove any barriers keeping hiQ from accessing public profile information within 24 hours. HiQ’s operations depend on its ability to access public LinkedIn data. The company sells analytics to clients including eBay, Capital One and GoDaddy that aim to help them with employee retention and recruitment. LinkedIn contends that hiQ’s services threaten its users’ privacy. Even though their information is already public, LinkedIn argued that users might not want to have employers tracking changes on their profiles, for example if they are seeking a new job. In his order, Chen argued that LinkedIn’s argument was flawed.

What Happened to Google's Effort to Scan Millions of University Library Books?

It was a crazy idea: Take the bulk of the world’s books, scan them, and create a monumental digital library for all to access. That’s what Google dreamed of doing when it embarked on its ambitious book-digitizing project in 2002. It got part of the way there, digitizing at least 25 million books from major university libraries. But the promised library of everything hasn’t come into being. An epic legal battle between authors and publishers and the Internet giant over alleged copyright violations dragged on for years. A settlement that would have created a Book Rights Registry and made it possible to access the Google Books corpus through public-library terminals ultimately died, rejected by a federal judge in 2011. And though the same judge ultimately dismissed the case in 2013, handing Google a victory that allowed it to keep on scanning, the dream of easy and full access to all those works remains just that.

Dispute Over Public Officials and Social Media

An emerging debate about whether elected officials violate people's free speech rights by blocking them on social media is spreading across the US as groups sue or warn politicians to stop the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Gov Paul LePage (R-ME) and sent warning letters to Utah's congressional delegation. It followed recent lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky and President Donald Trump. Politicians at all levels increasingly embrace social media to discuss government business, sometimes at the expense of traditional town halls or in-person meetings. "People turn to social media because they see their elected officials as being available there and they're hungry for opportunities to express their opinions and share feedback," said Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah. "That includes people who disagree with public officials." Most of the officials targeted so far — all Republicans — say they are not violating free speech but policing social media pages to get rid of people who post hateful, violent, obscene or abusive messages.

ACLU: Absent warrant standard, police could monitor anyone via location data

Lawyers representing a man convicted of six robberies in the Detroit area have now filed their opening brief at the Supreme Court in one of the most important digital privacy cases in recent years. This case, Carpenter v. United States, asks a simple question: is it OK for police to seize and search 127 days of cell-site location information (CSLI) without a warrant? Previously, lower courts have said that such practices are compatible with current law. But the fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case suggests that at least four justices feel that perhaps the law should be changed.

In Carpenter, as is the case in countless modern criminal cases, law enforcement was able to obtain the relevant records directly from the mobile phone provider with a court order that has less stringent requirements than a warrant. This is not a trivial distinction. A so-called "d-order" can be circumspect with how information is obtained by authorities. It does not, as the Fourth Amendment demands, require as much particularity. A warrant, unlike a d-order application, also mandates a signed and sworn affidavit ("on oath or affirmation"), as the Constitution requires, which describes the "places to be searched and the things to be seized." Carpenter's attorneys, many of whom are from the American Civil Liberties Union, argue in their filing that the current legal standard gives the government too much leeway. "If the Court were to accept this argument, the government could use this tool to monitor the minute-by-minute whereabouts of anyone—from ordinary citizens to prominent businesspersons to leaders of social movements," they wrote in their August 7 brief.

Statement Of FCC Chairman Pai On Court Decision To Deny Stay Of Business Data Services Reforms

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion to stay the effect of the Commission’s reform of its rules governing business data services. Chairman Pai issued the following statement:

“The court’s decision to let our modernization of our business data services rules take effect is an important—though unsurprising—affirmation that the Commission thoroughly analyzed our massive data collection to establish a robust, forward-looking competitive framework. These reforms will encourage vigorous investment in next-generation networks, which is critical if we are going to bridge the digital divide in our country."

FCC Notches Win in Business Data Services

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to the Federal Communications Commission when it refused to block the agency's regulatory changes to the business data services market from taking effect. The commission voted in April to relax regulations in the $45 billion market, finding that there was strong evidence of competition for the services, which provide connections for ATMs, hospitals and other institutions for high-volume data transmissions.

Sprint and several other organizations filed suit. Trade group INCOMPAS and the Ad Hoc Telecom Users Committee, an organization of major firms that buy telecom services, along with several others, asked the appeals court to stop the changes from taking effect. The court denied the request, along with a request from Sprint to transfer the case to DC.

Why social media is not a public forum

For Internet trolls, the week of July 24 may as well have been Christmas. On July 25, Judge James Cacheris of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia handed down a decision stating that public officials may not “block” their constituents on social media. The case, which will influence a similar case filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute against President Trump, involved a dispute between defendant Phyllis Randall, chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, and plaintiff Brian Davison.

The facts allege that Randall banned Davison from her Facebook page titled “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” after Davison published comments during an online forum that, in Randall’s view, consisted of “slanderous” remarks about “people’s family members” and “kickback money” (if the facts seem confusing or incomplete, it’s not just you — neither party could recall the precise contents of the deleted comment). Although it is difficult to contest that Randall was acting in her official capacity, the court’s conclusion that a social media platform is analogous to a public forum is ill-conceived.

Comcast fails to get hidden fee class-action suit thrown out of court

A class-action complaint against Comcast can move forward after a federal judge rejected a Comcast motion to dismiss it. The lawsuit, filed in October 2016 in US District Court in Northern California, accuses Comcast of falsely advertising low prices and then using poorly disclosed fees to increase the amount paid by cable TV customers. Those fees are the "Broadcast TV Fee," which had increased from $1.50 a month to $6.50 since 2014, and the "Regional Sports Fee" that rose from $1 to $4.50 since 2015. These fees are not included in the advertised prices, so customers end up paying higher prices than the ones they are led to believe they will pay, the lawsuit said.

When customers question Comcast reps about the fees, "Comcast staff and agents explicitly lie by stating that the Broadcast TV Fee and the Regional Sports Fee are government-related fees or taxes over which Comcast has no control," the complaint said. Comcast filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that its order submission process could not have created a contract and that customers agreed to pay the fees in the "Subscriber Agreement" and "Minimum Term Agreement." But US District Court Judge Vince Chhabria disputed Comcast's reasoning and wrote that the class-action plaintiffs have made plausible claims.

President Trump’s tweets keep being used against him in a court of law

President Donald Trump, your tweets are definitely being used against you in the court of law. The latest example is the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that Democratic attorneys general for 16 states can launch a court battle to try to force the Trump Administration to keep paying Obamacare subsidies that help make insurance more affordable for millions of lower-income people. The judges said it makes sense for states to launch a court fight to keep Obamacare subsidies because Republicans who don't like these subsidies are in power and because President Trump has tweeted he'd like to get rid of them. The lawsuit, the judges said, is "timely in light of accumulating public statements by high-level officials.”

This is becoming a pattern: Judges, when deciding how to rule in politically sticky situations, pull up Twitter and see what the president has said about it. In June, a federal appeals court ruled not to reinstate the president's' travel ban because he failed to prove the travel ban is so necessary for public safety that it's okay for it to temporarily curtail people's liberties. The court cited one of the president's tweets.