Society | DOI: 10.1145/2591231 Keith Kirkpatrick
Despite the need to make decisions relevant to technologies,
the U.S. Supreme Court is not the most techno-savvy group.
lost or stolen) can make the issue more
complicated, in terms of balancing
personal liberty against the needs of
Such a scenario explicitly highlights
the concerns of court watchers such as
Mark Grabowski, an attorney and assistant professor of communications
who teaches an Internet law course at
Adelphi University, regarding the technological knowledge of the judges.
During the oral argument phase of a
Supreme Court case several years ago,
Chief Justice John Roberts made comments that seemed to indicate he was
unaware of how personal pagers functioned, apparently believing messages
were transmitted directly between
the devices without utilizing a cellular network. While the exchange was
played for laughs, Grabowski believes
exchanges in oral arguments are often misinterpreted, as court proceedings are not recorded, but simply transcribed. Judges often ask questions
that, in transcripts, may look foolish,
but serve a purpose in trying to clarify
the legal distinctions between certain
types of technology.
AN ELITE GROUP of Ameri- cans have come under fire for being averse to and unknowledgeable about he basic workings and
culture surrounding new technology.
Despite being viewed as some of the
brightest and most accomplished people in their respective field of employ,
they have publicly admitted to being
resistant to using technology in their
own professional and personal lives,
and have been ridiculed as woefully
out of touch with the basic workings of
technology that has been in common
use for a decade or more.
This group of individuals is none
other than the nine members of the
U.S. Supreme Court, who are often
asked to rule on cases that are extremely technical in nature.
With an average age of nearly 70
years, no one expects the justices to be
regular users of technology developed
largely for the young, such as Vine or
Instagram. However, the perception
that the members of the Court simply
do not understand the basic workings
or culture surrounding the use of technology has many observers worried
about whether the highest court in
the land is unprepared or unwilling to
make truly informed rulings on today’s
pressing Constitutional issues that are
impacted by technology.
One of the highest-profile issues the
Court is expected to weigh in on focuses
on the warrantless search of cellphones,
and whether such a search is a violation
of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of
protection against unreasonable search
and seizure. This spring, the Supreme
Court was scheduled to address cases
from California and Massachusetts, respectively, both arising from prosecutions that question the admissibility of
evidence obtained through a search of
the suspect’s cellphone after arrest.
Earlier court precedent allows police officers to search all items a person has on them at the time of arrest
without requiring a warrant. However,
as cellphones have grown to include email, bank history, and location data,
the potential problems with the existing standards have become apparent.
Furthermore, the ability for people to
“wipe” or erase the contents of a device remotely (such as when a phone is
One of the
issues the Court
is expected to
weigh in on focuses
on the warrantless