Supreme Court Judges who Don’t Use Email will Decide Future of Online Privacy

Tuesday, May 06, 2014
(AP photo)

Nearly half of the U.S. Supreme Court was born during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Four other justices are in their 60s, and the youngest is 54. Most of these justices had already lived half or more of their lives when the Internet came into American life, putting them behind the modern communications curve of email, texting and social media.


The people who will decide the fate of online privacy in current and future court cases have little or no personal point of reference when it comes to understanding how email and other electronic communications have shaped Americans’ lives.


Justice Elena Kagan, the court’s “kid” at age 54, who uses personal email and surfs the web, has admitted that her colleagues “are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people.”


When the justices want to contact one another at the Supreme Court, they don’t use email. Instead, memos are hand-written—on paper reminiscent of parchment from the 19th century—and are delivered by chamber aides.


Some justices, particularly Chief Justice John Roberts, are clueless about the legitimate and lawful reasons for why Americans would carry two cell phones.


In one recent case, Roberts “insinuated that police might reasonably suspect a person who carries two cellphones of being a drug dealer. Is he unaware that a large portion of the DC political class with which he associates – including many of his law clerks – carries both a personal and business phone, daily?” columnist Trevor Timm wrote at The Guardian.


Other court members revealed their online ignorance by referencing “Netflick” during an online copyright case.


“So the future of our privacy, of our technology – these problems land at the feet of a handful of tech-unsavvy judges. Future nominees to the bench should be quizzed on their knowledge of technology at confirmation hearings. And while many have made the argument that the secret Fisa [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court should employ a technologist to explain technical issues to the less technical judges, the same can be said of the Supreme Court. It’s time to get the net already,” Timm wrote.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Technology Law Will Soon Be Reshaped by People Who Don't Use Email (by Trevor Timm, The Guardian)

Elena Kagan Admits Supreme Court Justices Haven’t Quite Figured Out Email Yet (by Will Oremus, Slate)

Years of Supreme Court Opinions on Shaky Ground as Critical Web Links Vanish (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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