Supremes Display Tech Ignorance

Someone should do the court a favour and introduce the justices to a few teenagers who might explain the technological facts of life.

That’s the only conclusion that one can draw from reading the transcript of Ontario v. Quon, argued yesterday.

As the New York Post headline put it: Supreme Court justices demonstrate extreme lack of tech savvy.

It will be remembered in Kitchener as the day when Chief Justice Roberts used the term BlackBerries on page 25 of the transcript, thus showing that the device is here to stay.

The case involved Sergeant Jeff Quon, a southern California SWAT team officer, who used police department equipment to send sexually explicit messages to a girlfriend. The Supreme Court had to consider for the first time whether the Constitution’s protection for privacy extends to workplace emails and cell phone calls.

The DC DICTA blog mocked the Chief Justice for asking “what is the difference between the pager and the e-mail?”, although the transcript showed that he was talking about how the two media were treated in the department’s policy.

But there were other times in the hearing
when the judges asked some remarkably basic questions about the technology.

JUSTICE ALITO: If someone wanted to send a message to one of these pagers, what sort of a device would you need? Do you need to have another pager, or can you — could you send a message to one of these devices from some other type of device?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: What happens, just out of curiosity, if you’re — he is on the pager and sending a message and they are trying to reach him for, you know, a SWAT team crisis? Does he — does the one kind of trump the other, or do they get a busy signal?

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I thought, you know, you push a button; it goes right to the other thing.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Can you print these things out?

JUSTICE ALITO: Can an officer who has one of these pagers delete messages from the pager?

And of course, no embarrassing interventions from Justice Thomas.

A hat tip to the latest appointment to the Federal Court of Appeal, Stratas, J.A.

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