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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that police officers usually need a warrant before they can search the cellphone of an arrested suspect, a major decision in favor of privacy rights at a time of increasing concern over government encroachment in digital communications. In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said there are some emergency situations in which a warrantless search would be permitted. But the unanimous 9-0 ruling goes against law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Department of Justice, which wanted more latitude to search without having to obtain a warrant.

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Oaxacan community takes matters into its own hands after Telmex repeatedly fails to install phone lines. (Aug 2013)

The design studio Vitamins even went so far as to question the need for additional technology in one of their projects. When Samsung approached them to design a phone for the elderly, Vitamins did not go down the well-trodden path of creating a device with bigger buttons, a bigger screen or vastly simplified functionality. Instead, their solution revolved around a standard smartphone: Vitamins designed two hardcover, bound books, with cutouts into which the device could be placed. By carefully creating the pages around the cutouts, they created a simple walkthrough guide that allows users to achieve tasks like dialing a phone number by following printed step-by-step information, with illustrations and arrows pointing at the relevant buttons on the positioned device. Vitamins humanized a piece of technology by actually removing technology from parts of its experience.

The ability to buy small amounts of prepaid calling time had enabled the very poor in many countries to gain access to mobile phones. In Latin America, however, high taxes on communication services impedes some of that access, with a typical broadband plan costing 66% more than in the average developed country. In Asia, meanwhile, a low-cost business model has driven high mobile use.

Across the developing world, potential emergencies consistently rank high on surveys as the main reason for buying a phone. Many developing countries lack the standard emergency services found in developed countries. In the absence of such a service, people call a family member or a friend for help in a crisis.

For businesses, saving time and money on transportation has emerged as the greatest economic benefit of mobile phone ownership. Meanwhile, “mobile money” has gained in popularity, suiting the needs of the poor better than conventional banking.

Laurent Elder: The Information Lives of the Poor | Ottawa Citizen, introducing the new book he has co-authored with Alison Gillwald, Rohan Samarajiva and Hernan Galperin.