Quoted: on the not-too-tech-savvy Supreme Court

“The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people. The court hasn’t really ‘gotten to’ email.”

Elena Kagan, who at 53 is the youngest and newest member of the Supreme Court, says the justices write memos on paper and rely on their younger clerks to help them understand technology. That probably doesn’t surprise many people. The @SCOUTS_scalia Twitter account, for example, says “this is a parody account, in case you thought he could work Twitter.” But it does shine a light on the fact that the nation’s highest court, which has tackled tech-policy issues such as video-game violence, patenting human genes and warrantless wiretapping enabled by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, has limited firsthand knowledge of the technology that’s in some instances central to the cases they hear. That’s not to say they don’t try, according to Kagan, who said “it was kind of hilarious” when the justices played video games for the first time when they were hearing the case about violent games. But, in the wake of recent revelations about NSA spying, back to the case involving FISA and warrantless wiretapping — which the court threw out in February because the secrecy of the surveillance programs meant the plaintiffs (journalists, lawyers, advocacy groups) couldn’t prove harm: Kagan acknowledged in a talk Monday that the court is likely to hear similar cases about tech, privacy and surveillance. “I think we’re going to have to be doing a lot of thinking about that.”

 

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan speaks with Brown University historian Ted Widmer during a forum at Chase Theater in Providence, R.I., Tuesday. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (3903 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also helps take care of SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay (at) bayareanewsgroup (dot-com).