Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

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The Fifth Circuit denied Huawei's petition for review challenging an FCC rule barring the use of government subsidies to buy equipment from companies designated security risks to communications networks. As a preliminary matter, the court dismissed Huawei's claims related to the initial designation for lack of jurisdiction based on ripeness grounds.The court concluded that the FCC reasonably interpreted its authority under the Communications Act in formulating the rule. The court found that the agency reasonably interpreted the Act's "public interest" provisions (47 U.S.C. 254(c)(1)(D), in coordination with section 201(b)), to authorize allocation of universal service funds based on the agency's exercise of limited national security judgment. Furthermore, the agency reasonably interpreted the "quality services" provision in section 254(b)(1) to support that exercise. Therefore, the court deferred to the agency's interpretation under Chevron review and rejected Huawei's argument that the agency lacked statutory authority for the rule. The court also considered the companies' other challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution, finding that claims regarding adequacy of notice, arbitrary and capricious review, vagueness, and due process are unavailing. View "Huawei Technologies USA, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court dismissing this complaint alleging a violation of the Massachusetts wiretap act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, 99, holding that Plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to state a cognizable cause of action.Defendants - Barstool Sports, Inc. and Kirk Minihane, an agent for Barstool - recorded a telephone conversation with Plaintiff, Somerville mayor Joseph Curatone, under an assumed identity and then published the recording on Barstool's blog. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Minihane violated the act. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The superior court judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that because Minihane did not secretly record his conversation with Plaintiff the recording at issue did not fall within the statutory definition of an "interception" within the meaning of the wiretap act. View "Curtatone v. Barstool Sports, Inc." on Justia Law

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A 1993 Communications Act amendment required the FCC to collect regulatory fees to recover the costs of its activities. “Space stations” (satellites) were included in the schedule but there were blanket exceptions for governmental or nonprofit entities. Initially, the FCC limited regulatory fees to those entities it licensed, which does not include foreign-licensed satellites. In 2013, the FCC invited comment on that conclusion but declined to decide the issue. The 2018 “Ray Baum’s Act,” 47 U.S.C. 159, changed the FCC’s authority to adjust the fee schedule based on the number of “units” (satellites) subject to fees rather than either the number of units or licensees and added the power to adjust fees based on factors “reasonably related to the benefits provided" by FCC activities.In 2019, the FCC again sought comment, noting that foreign-licensed satellites that serve U.S. customers benefit in the same manner as their U.S.-licensed competitors. The FCC concluded it should adopt regulatory fees for non-U.S. licensed satellites with U.S. market access. Foreign-licensed satellite operators must petition the FCC to access the U.S. market. The FCC devotes significant resources to processing such petitions. The current exemption “places the burden of regulatory fees" solely on U.S. licensees; commercial foreign-licensed satellites with general U.S. market access did not exist until 1997. The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review. The petitioners have not shown that the FCC unreasonably interpreted the Act or provided inadequate notice of the Order. View "Telesat Canada v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (the Territories) in September 2017 and destroyed large portions of the Territories’ telecommunications networks. In response, the FCC issued three orders that provided subsidies from the Universal Service Fund to help rebuild those networks. TriCounty, a telecommunications provider that contributes to the Fund, challenged two orders under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Communications Act. Tri-County argued that in one order, the FCC bypassed notice and comment without good cause and failed to justify the amount and allocation of funds and that in both orders, the FCC departed from a previous policy without explanation and contravened the Communications Act.The D.C. Circuit denied a petition for review, after finding that TriCounty had standing to challenge the orders, except with respect to the allocation of funds, from which it suffered no concrete harm. The Communications Act directs the FCC to make policies “for the preservation and advancement of universal service.” 47 U.S.C. 254(b). The FCC had previously used the Fund for disaster relief and its findings with respect to the Territories were reasonable. Under the APA, an agency may forgo notice and comment when it is “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest,” 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). View "Tri-County Telephone Association, Inc. v. e Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Former Georgia police sergeant Van Buren used his credentials on a patrol-car computer to access a law enforcement database to retrieve license plate information in exchange for money. His conduct violated a department policy against obtaining database information for non-law-enforcement purposes. The Eleventh Circuit upheld Van Buren's conviction for a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), which covers anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access,” 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2), defined to mean “to access a computer with authorization and to use such access to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.”The Supreme Court reversed. An individual “exceeds authorized access” when he accesses a computer with authorization but then obtains information located in particular areas of the computer (files, folders, databases) that are off-limits to him. Van Buren “access[ed] a computer with authorization” and “obtain[ed] . . . information in the computer.” The phrase “is not entitled so to obtain” refers to information one is not allowed to obtain by using a computer that he is authorized to access.“Without authorization” protects computers themselves from outside hackers; the “exceeds authorized access” clause protects certain information within computers from "inside hackers." One either can or cannot access a computer system, and one either can or cannot access certain areas within the system. The Act’s precursor to the “exceeds authorized access” language covered any person who, “having accessed a computer with authorization, uses the opportunity such access provides for purposes to which such authorization does not extend.” Congress removed any reference to “purpose” in the CFAA. On the government’s reading, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using a work computer may have violated the CFAA. View "Van Buren v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit concluded that, under Florida law, the policy exclusion barring coverage for claims arising out of an invasion of privacy unambiguously excludes coverage for claims alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) in which the complaint repeatedly alleges that defendants invaded the privacy of plaintiffs. The court explained that the invasion of privacy exclusion barred coverage for the class action here because the class complaint specifically alleged that iCan intentionally invaded the class members' privacy and sought recovery for those invasions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Liberty. View "Horn v. Liberty Insurance Underwriters, Inc." on Justia Law

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Corley was convicted of three counts of sex trafficking of a minor. Corley subsequently sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning his own case. The Department of Justice withheld 323 pages of responsive records, including “the names, descriptions and other personally identifiable information” of Corley’s victims, invoking FOIA Exemption 3, which authorizes withholding of certain materials “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3). The “statute” relied upon was the Child Victims’ and Child Witnesses’ Rights Act, which restricts disclosure of “information concerning a child [victim or witness],” 18 U.S.C. 3509(d)(1)(A)(i).The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government. The Child Victims’ Act qualifies as an Exemption 3 withholding statute and covers the records Corley seeks. The Act provides that “all employees of the Government” involved in a particular case “shall keep all documents that disclose the name or any other information concerning a child in a secure place” and disclose such documents “only to persons who, by reason of their participation in the proceeding, have reason to know such information.” Corley sought the documents not as a criminal defendant but rather as a member of the public. The protections apply even though the victims are no longer minors. View "Corley v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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COA submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, request, seeking access to specified Department of Justice (DOJ) records. The response indicated that 143 pages contained records that were responsive to the request. Three cover letters and four Questions for the Record (QFR) documents were identified as responsive, each contains questions posed by members of Congress and, for two of the documents, the corresponding answers provided by DOJ. Each document is self-contained, with a single, overarching heading. The questions and answers in each document are consecutively numbered, and all but one of the documents has consecutively numbered pages. DOJ removed pages and redacted material from those documents without claiming exemption from disclosure under FOIA but claiming that these pages and material need not be disclosed because they constitute “Non-Responsive Record[s].” COA filed suit.The D.C. Circuit held that DOJ’s position is untenable. Once an agency identifies a record it deems responsive, FOIA compels disclosure of the responsive record as a unit except insofar as the agency may redact information falling within a statutory exemption. FOIA calls for disclosure of a responsive record, not just responsive information within a record. Each of the QFR documents constitutes a unitary record, as demonstrated by DOJ’s own treatment of those documents. A challenge to DOJ’s alleged policy or practice of segmenting one record into multiple records to avoid disclosure was unripe. View "Cause of Action Institute v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Eringer is a writer of espionage-themed books and an "intelligence operative." Eringer, working for Prince Albert II of Monaco, hired Berlin to investigate the Chandler brothers, businessmen operating in Monaco. In 2003, Berlin delivered to Eringer a report that included allegations that the brothers were engaged in money laundering on behalf of high-level Russian officials and Russian organized crime. In the following years, Eringer made claims about the Chandlers in various fora, including a suit against the Prince in California, a 2014 self-published book, "The Spymaster of Monte Carlo," and an online article. Eringer did not reference Berlin or the 2003 Report. Chandler learned of Eringer’s accusations by 2010. Claims regarding the Chandlers became a source of public controversy in 2017, when a British newspaper published a story about their "links to Russia.” In 2018, Chandler sued Berlin for libel per se.The district court granted Berlin summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The evidence does not establish as a matter of law that a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have sued Berlin more than a year earlier. Berlin and Eringer are not so closely connected that Chandler’s knowledge of Eringer’s pre-2017 defamatory statements caused accrual of Chandler’s action against Berlin. Reasonable jurors could differ as to whether facts available to Chandler before 2017 put him on inquiry notice of any claim against Berlin. Berlin cannot be held liable for the nonparty client’s republication of Berlin’s statements, which was not reasonably foreseeable. View "Chandler v. Berlin" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Washington Supreme Court’s in this case was whether an individual’s YouTube channel qualified as “news media” for requests for certain records under the Washington Public Records Act (PRA). In 2014, Brian Green and Peter Auvil went to the County-City Building in Tacoma to file a document and pay a parking ticket. As they went through security, the guard asked to search Auvil’s bag. Auvil refused. A Pierce County deputy sheriff came to assist, and Auvil began to record a video of the interaction on his phone. Auvil continued to refuse to allow the security guard to search the bag, arguing that the security checkpoint was a violation of his privacy rights. The conversation escalated, and the deputy asked the men to leave. When Green stood too close to him, the deputy shoved Green and caused him to fall backward onto the floor. The deputy arrested Green for criminal obstruction and took him to jail. He was released approximately 24 hours later. The prosecuting attorney’s office dismissed the charge. In December 2017, Green e-mailed a PRA request to the Pierce County Sheriff’s public records office requesting “[a]ny and all records of official photos and/or birth date and/or rank and/or position and/or badge number and/or date hired and/or ID Badge for all detention center and/or jail personnel and/or deputies on duty November 26 & 27 2014.” A representative of the Sheriff’s “Public Disclosure Unit” sent 11 pages of records, but did not include photographs or dates of birth as requested, explaining that the information was exempt under the PRA. Green said he was “working on a story concerning the Pierce County Jail” and again signed his e-mail with the title, “Investigative Journalist.” Green claimed his 6,000-subscriber YouTube channel met the definition of “news media” under the PRA. The Supreme Court concluded the statutory definition of “news media” required an entity with a legal identity separate from the individual. Green did not prove that he or the Libertys Champion YouTube channel met the statutory definition of “news media,” and, thus, he was not entitled to the exempt records. Therefore, the trial court was reversed in part. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Pierce County’s motion to compel discovery. View "Green v. Pierce County" on Justia Law