A federal court in Boston has ruled that the government is not allowed to search travelers’ phones or other electronic devices at the U.S. border without first having reasonable suspicion of a crime.
That’s a significant victory for civil liberties advocates, who say the government’s own rules allowing its border agents to search electronic devices at the border without a warrant are unconstitutional.
The court said the government’s policies on warrantless searches of devices without reasonable suspicion “violate the Fourth Amendment,” which provides constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures.
The case was brought by 11 travelers — 10 of whom are U.S. citizens — with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said border agents searched their smartphones and laptops without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing or criminal activity.
The border remains a bizarre legal grey area, where the government asserts powers that it cannot claim against citizens or residents within the United States but citizens and travelers are not afforded all of their rights as if they were on U.S. soil. The government has long said it doesn’t need a warrant to search devices at the border. Any data collected by Customs & Border Protection without a warrant can still be shared with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement.
Esha Bhandari, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said the ruling “significantly advances” protections under the Fourth Amendment.
“This is a great day for travelers who now can cross the international border without fear that the government will, in the absence of any suspicion, ransack the extraordinarily sensitive information we all carry in our electronic devices,” said Sophia Cope, a senior staff attorney at the EFF.
Millions of travelers arrive into the U.S. every day. Last year, border officials searched 33,000 travelers’ devices — a fourfold increase since 2015 — without any need for reasonable suspicion. In recent months, travelers have been told to inform the government of any social media handles they have, all of which are subject to search prior to being let in to the United States. But some have been denied entry to the U.S. for content on their phones shared by other people.
A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection did not immediately comment.
Automaker Hyundai is forming a new joint venture with autonomous driving technology company Aptiv, with both parties taking a 50% ownership stake in the new company. The goal of the new venture will be to develop Level 4 and Level 5 production-ready self-driving systems intended for commercialization, with the goal of making those available to robotaxi and fleet operators, as well as other auto makers, by 2022.
The combined investment in the joint venture from both companies will total $4 billion in aggregate value (including the value of combined engineering services, R&D and IP) initially, according to Aptiv and Hyundai, and testing for their fully autonomous systems will begin in 2020 in pursuit of that 2022 commercialization target.
In terms of what each is bringing to the table, Aptiv will be delivering its autonomous driving tech, which it has been developing for many years — originally as part of global automotive industry supplier Delphi — as well as 700 employees working on AV tech. Hyundai Motor Group will provide a combined $1.6 billion in cash from across its subrands, vehicle engineering, R&D and access to its IP.
Heading up the new joint venture will be Karl Iagnemma, the president of Aptiv’s Autonomous Mobility group, and it’ll be headquartered in Boston and supported by additional technology centers in multiple locations in the U.S. and Asia.
Both companies have been demonstrating autonomous vehicle technologies for multiple years now, and Aptiv has been working with Lyft in Las Vegas on a public trial of autonomous robotaxi services since debuting the capabilities at CES in 2018. Aptiv’s Vegas pilot uses BMW 5 Series cars for its autonomous pickup fleet.
This joint venture should help them with bringing the technology to market with the scale of a global automaker, while Hyundai gains by being able to shore up its own work in self-driving with a partner that has invested in developing these solutions as a primary concern over many years.
The Boston-based company is one of a handful of U.S.-based early-stage companies that are on the forefront of developing the tools to modify genetic material for everyday applications.
“Cells are programmable similar to computers because they run on digital code in the form of DNA.” said Jason Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks, in a statement. “Ginkgo has the best compiler and debugger for writing genetic code and we use it program cells for customers in a range of industries. Today’s fundraise will allow us expand our technology and continue our drive to bring biology into every physical goods industry – materials, clothing, electronics, food, pharmaceuticals, and more. They are all biotech industries but just don’t know it yet.”
Ginkgo makes money in two ways. The company sells its development services to anyone who comes in with an idea. Kelly said that it’d be like any agreement with an entrepreneur who hires a coding shop to develop an application.
For example, if an entrepreneur wanted to develop houseplants that smelled like roses or lilies, they could approach Ginkgo, pay a (not-insignificant) fee, and Ginkgo would do the research into designing something like a lily-scented fern. (Kelly puts the sticker price on that kind of development somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million, so a founder best believe their product can sell.)
“You don’t need to come in with deep biological know-how,” Kelly says. “The question is, is capital interested in the problem?”
The other way that Ginkgo is approaching the market is by taking equity stakes in businesses that rely on its technology.
Those take the form of joint ventures with companies like Bayer (the first joint venture partner for Ginkgo) and the launch of Joyn, a $100 million spin-out that was created in the summer of 2018.
The two companies are collaborating on the development of seeds that require less fertilizer for growth — something that could save the industry millions and decrease pollution associated with traditional chemical fertilizers.
Since that first spinout, Ginkgo has created three other companies. There’s the $122 million deal to produce rare cannabinoids with the Canadian cannabis company, Cronos; a partnership with Roche that was born out of Ginkgo’s acquisition of Warp Drive Bio; and Motif Foodworks, which is working on manufacturing alternative proteins with a $120 million in financing.
Alongside these large-scale initiatives, Ginkgo has signed partnerships with the West Coast powerhouse accelerator program from Y Combinator and a new Boston-based life sciences-focused group called Petri to conduct development work for startups from those programs in exchange for an equity stake.
“We’re not going to have all the good ideas,” says Kelly. “We want to tap the much larger pool of smart people and really have them building on our platform. Of all of the people we can give value to, we can give the most to startups. If we can offer them to do their biowork without all of the fixed costs of build a lab,” that’s valuable, he says.
Investors in the company include Y Combinator, DCVC, MassChallenge, Felicis Ventures, General Atlantic, Baillie Gifford, Bill Gates, and Viking Global.
As biotechnology becomes more central to new innovations in healthcare, material science and manufacturing, one of the nation’s research hubs is getting a new accelerator called Petri to launch companies focused on the commercialization of new technologies.
Backed by the Boston-based venture capital firm Pillar, Petri has a three-year $15 million commitment to back companies developing new biotech applications in food, healthcare, industrial chemicals and new materials — along with the enabling technologies to bring these products to market.
“We’re at the inflection point where these technologies will impact and continue to impact health but will also impact food, agriculture, chemicals and materials,” says Petri co-founder, Tony Kulesa. “Everything we touch has some element of biology.”
Pillar has already invested in a couple of companies that show the potential promise of new biotech research coming from Boston-based universities, like Boston University, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Asimov,io, a company that has set an ultimate goal of designing new genomes for industrial applications, was co-founded by graduates from Boston University and MIT, and is a part of the Pillar portfolio. PathAi, a company working on enabling technologies for computational biology, also counts an MIT grad as a co-founder. Meanwhile, Harvard’s George Church has been instrumental in the development of a number of biotech companies working at the frontier of genetic applications for healthcare and manufacturing.
As an instructor at MIT, Kulesa spent seven years at MIT watching, in his words, how engineering has transformed biology. “It became clear to me that these technologies need to get out in the world,” he said.
Joining Kulesa as a managing director is Brian Baynes, a serial entrepreneur who founded Midori Health, an animal nutrition startup; Kaleido Biosciences, a microbiome control focused company; Celexion, a protein engineering and synthetic biology company; and Codon Devices, a synthetic biology toolkit company which was sold to Ginkgo Bioworks .
Over time, Kulesa and Baynes expect to have 10 to 20 companies in each cohort as the program expands. In addition to checks of at least $250,000 the Petri accelerator has lab and office space available for each company.
The companies also could benefit from potential partnerships with companies like Ginkgo Bioworks, which happens to share office space in the same building, and with the accelerator’s clutch of big-name advisors and “co-founders” recruited from across the life sciences industry.
These co-founders, who collectively hold a double-digit equity stake in Petri’s accelerator, include Reshma Shetty, from Ginkgo Bioworks; Emily Leproust of Twist Bioscience; Stan Lapidus, who was at Exact Sciences and Cytyc; Daphne Koller, the co-founder and chief executive of Insitro; Alec Nielsen, the founder Asimov; and researchers Chris Voigt of MIT and Pam Silver and George Church from Harvard’s Wyss Institute.
Genetically engineered organisms are finding their way into everything from food to fuel to chemistry. Companies like Impossible Foods, which uses genetically modified soy product, has raised hundreds of millions for its protein replacement, while Solugen, a manufacturer of chemicals using genetically modified organisms, has raised tens of millions to commercialize its technology. And Ginkgo Bioworks has raised nearly half a billion dollars to pursue applications for industrial biology.