An Analysis of the First Amendment through the Lens of Social Movements: How Apple's Latest Iphone Patent Can Change the Way We Rise

By Russo, Ashley E. | The Journal of High Technology Law, January 2018 | Go to article overview

An Analysis of the First Amendment through the Lens of Social Movements: How Apple's Latest Iphone Patent Can Change the Way We Rise


Russo, Ashley E., The Journal of High Technology Law


I. Introduction

Every day, all across the world, billions of people use their iPhone as a vital source for communicating, gathering information, listening to music, and capturing photos and videos. (1) With the swipe of a finger or the touch of a button, billions of people worldwide have the technology in the palm of their hands to capture any moment that they want--whether it be a treasured memory, an Instagram photo of a user's latest meal, or even a video of a newsworthy story. (2) In fact, Americans use their iPhones so often that they may have a tendency to overlook the implications of having such significant power at their fingertips. (3) Recently, Apple obtained a patent, which could pose a threat to the ability of users to freely use their iPhone cameras. (4)

The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently granted Apple a patent that has the potential to change the way millions of iPhone users use their cell phone, specifically the camera. (5) The patent is titled "Systems and methods for receiving infrared data with a camera designed to detect images based on visible light" ("Infrared Data Patent"). (6) The system is designed to remotely disable the iPhone camera in places, such as concert venues, museums, and theaters. (7) The language of the patent uses live concerts as the prime example of where this patent will achieve optimal use. (8) With this patented technology, performing musicians and artists will have their copyright protected from viewers who record and pirate live concerts. (9)

While this patent may seem appropriate to protect artists, it presents several serious implications that could change the way Americans use their iPhones. (10) What if this technology were to be used by the police or the government, who could benefit from disabling iPhone cameras at their discretion? (11) Alternatively, what if the police or the government--who are constantly facing backlash from video recordings and photographs--could enable this feature at locations of their choosing? (12) What if, by pointing infrared signals to a specific location, millions of Americans could find themselves unable to use their camera? (13) Arguably, this may pose a threat to basic fundamental rights as Americans under the First Amendment--the freedom to express ourselves through means of photographs, speech, protest, and religion, among several other things. (14)

This Note will explore the potential First Amendment violations that could arise out of Apple's latest iPhone camera patent if the technology were to be adopted by the police and the government. (15) By exploring the history of the First Amendment and its evolution as it applies to photographs and video recordings in public places, this Note demonstrates both the media and the public's reliance on smartphone cameras, particularly that of the iPhone. (16) This Note will argue that the disabling of iPhone cameras in public places by the police or the government should be forbidden, because doing so would be a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. (17)

II. History

A. History of the First Amendment

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is one of the most recognized forms of legislation in America. (18) Since its enactment in 1791, the First Amendment of the Constitution has served to protect American citizens from the government by enacting "... no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (19) Meanwhile, as a way of protecting the rights granted under the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that:

"... [n]o State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the
privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall
any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the
equal protection of the laws. … 

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