Supreme Court Rules on Aereo, Warrantless Cell-Phone Searches - Decided
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Supreme Court Rules on Aereo, Warrantless Cell-Phone Searches

The U.S. Supreme Court released two impactful opinions on Wednesday, potentially changing how the nation treats streaming broadcast TV and warrantless cell-phone searches by police.

In American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, the High Court determined that an online streaming service which allowed users to watch over-the-air broadcast TV on their computers and mobile devices violated copyright law. Meantime, mobile users have been given a bit more protection under Riley v. California, holding that police may not generally search a cell phone after arrest without a warrant.

Let's break down both Supreme Court cases.

Riley: No Cell-Phone Search Incident to Arrest

In Riley v. California, the Court unanimously determined that while officers could legally seize a suspect's cell phone upon arrest, they had no right to search the phone without a warrant.

This decision overturned a 2011 California Supreme Court decision which declared that cell phones could be searched as part of a lawful search incident to arrest. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that officers may legally search areas within an arrestee's immediate control (e.g., clothes, pockets, cigarette boxes, etc.); however, this exception to the warrant requirement does not extend to cell-phone data.

Reuters reports that this ruling was in line with public opinion. A recent poll found more than 60 percent of people agreed that police should not be allowed to search cell phones upon arrest without a warrant.

Aereo: Bad News for Streaming Live TV

Cell phone users may be safe from warrantless searches, but they might not be able to watch streaming live TV signals after a separate High Court decision issued Wednesday.

In American Broadcasting Cos. v. Aereo, the Court held, 6-3, that Aereo's service -- turning a cell phone into a small TV -- infringed on network TV content by essentially rebroadcasting over-the-air TV into the cloud.

Aereo had won its case against network TV forces in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by arguing that its subscribers' phones were no different than TV sets with tiny antennas. But the Supreme Court didn't buy it, stating that Aereo was essentially "performing" network TV publicly without a license.

Similar to the logic used on businesses that have to worry about infringement for showing the Super Bowl without permission, the Supreme Court has likely closed one avenue for viewing live network TV on your smartphone. Reuters reports that if Aereo had won, networks like CBS had threatened to "cut off their free-to-air broadcast signals."

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