Supreme Court Justices Can't Figure Out Email, Completely Mystified By Social Media

from the and-yet-they-make-judgments-on-this-stuff? dept

There are legitimate reasons to avoid email -- such as Ladar Levison of Lavabit explaining his concerns about privacy. And, certainly, you can understand why some more elderly people have avoided email, though if my late grandmother kept up her emailing well past her 90th birthday, it seems like almost anyone should be able to pick it up. But, it's somewhat disturbing to find out that nearly every Supreme Court Justice hasn't bothered to figure out email yet because they haven't "gotten to" email.
"The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people," she said, adding that while clerks email one another, "The court hasn't really 'gotten to' email."

Kagan, at age 53 the youngest and most recently appointed justice, said communication among the justices is the same as when she clerked for the late Thurgood Marshall in 1987.

Justice write memos printed out on paper that looks like it came from the 19th century, she said. The memos are then walked around the building by someone called a "chambers aide."
She also noted that Facebook, Twitter and similar services are "a challenge for us."

Though, she does note that when they had to rule on California's law restricting violent video games, a few of the Justices did try some of the games in question, though "It was kind of hilarious."

Sure, old people playing video games, ha ha. Except, as Will Oremus points out, it's really not that funny at all when you realize these nine people are deciding a ton of cases that have a huge impact on the future of technology, innovation and communication. For them not to understand the underlying technologies, how they're used and what they mean is a serious concern:
It does sound quaint and endearing, until you remember that these are the people charged with interpreting the law of the land on issues like online privacy and digital surveillance. No wonder they decided earlier this year that the government spying on people’s emails without a warrant is no big deal. Bet they’d have some strong opinions if the NSA started eavesdropping on people’s chambers aides, though.
It's easy for some people to say that you don't have to understand social networking to rule on such cases, but it's hard to support the more you think about it. These tools are key to open and free communications these days. They are the embodiment of what the First Amendment was supposed to be about -- a free marketplace of ideas. Not understanding how they work and how they're used can really skew how they're viewed via the legal prism. And that should be worrisome. We've already seen in a variety of copyright cases before the Supreme Court that they seem to have a near total blind spot when it comes to how copyright interferes with free expression, in part because they still view it through the antiquated filter of "professional" publishers being the ones doing the speaking, rather than the general public using tools to communicate, converse, debate and express ideas.


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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 1:56pm

    Lamest story yet.

    If only because paper is easier to read than a screen.

    Masnicking: daily spurts of short and trivial traffic-generating items.

     

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    Internet Zen Master (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:00pm

    Really hope a Justice retires soon

    Then Obama could appoint a judge that actually understood 21st century technology to the court.

    Although given how pro-NSA/NSA yes-man/the NSA's biatch[take your pick] Obama seems to be, appointing a technologically competent justice could be a bad thing, because they might side with the surveillance state Gen. Alexander-types on critical Constitutional issues.

    As the Zen Master says, "We'll see."

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:20pm

      Re: Really hope a Justice retires soon

      Then Obama could appoint a judge that actually understood 21st century technology to the court.


      Yeah! He could appoint an EE or CompSci guy! That would be cool!

      á

      á

      Oh, wait. á He needs a JD, too? á Someone with an EE/CS degree and a JD is most probably a patent lawyer. áMost probably.

      Bad idea.

       

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      Hephaestus (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:56pm

      Re: Really hope a Justice retires soon

      Hand Picked by RIAA no doubt ...

       

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    Rekrul, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:12pm

    And, certainly, you can understand why some more elderly people have avoided email, though if my late grandmother kept up her emailing well past her 90th birthday, it seems like almost anyone should be able to pick it up.

    Back in the mid to late 80s and early 90s, I knew a guy who was in his 70s who used computers. He started with the Commodore 64 and went on to the Commodore Amiga. He would use them to call local BBSs, and to play various golf games (Jack Nicklaus Golf, Leaderboard Golf, etc) and Flight Simulator II. He wasn't an expert, but he probably had more computer knowledge than 90% of the users today.

     

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    Rob, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:15pm

    It is time for these old Justices to retire. They don't use email! It is a darn shame they can't be forced out.

     

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    michael, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:19pm

    25 year old tech

    When I started college in 1990, everyone at the university had an email account, and the upperclassmen already used it regularly.

    This is not a "new technology" that has suddenly made communication easier. This is old technology -- used by students at even crappy universities -- for 25+ years, and ingrained into the minds of everyone since Gen X.

    There is no excuse for educated people to proudly tout their cultural and technological ignorance, no matter what their jobs are. But for these people -- the youngest of whom is only 12 years older than me -- it's just a disgrace.

     

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      Argonel (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:23pm

      Re: 25 year old tech

      You don't even have to understand the technology to make sane decisions about it. The name covers it pretty well. E-mail aka electronic mail aka mail that is sent electronically. Sounds like private communications, get a warrant if you want to intercept and read it.

      Functionally it is closer to a post card, but it isn't like getting a warrant is an insurmountable barrier if you have any evidence of wrongdoing.

       

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        MissingFrame, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:41pm

        Re: Re: 25 year old tech

        ... and don't forget these postcards travel down a series of tubes.

        Seriously, there are so many differences between email and snailmail I can hardly keep the smart-assed remarks to myself.

         

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          Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 1:27am

          Re: Re: Re: 25 year old tech

          Seriously, there are so many differences between email and snailmail [snip]
          Indeed there are, but I think he was trying to point out the glaring similarity that's right there in the name - MAIL.
          I.e. with snailmail you have an expectation of privacy of the contents despite the many people that handle it between sender and recipient. E-mail has (or should have) the same expectation. Hardly rocket science even for the tech-illiterate...

           

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      Rich, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:26pm

      Re: 25 year old tech

      In the '90s I worked for a software house that didn't have email or The Internet. It was embarrassing. Especially when you were collaborating with other engineers at another company, and they would ask for your email address.

       

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      Ted T., Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 4:54am

      Re: 25 year old tech & no JD required

      I started college in 1981 and I had an email address/account so actually it is a 30 plus year old technology.

      To the person who said Supreme Court Justices need a JD? Actually, no, they don't. There are NO constitutional requirements to be a Supreme Court Justice. The president has to nominate you and the senate has to confirm you. That's it. So there is no reason we couldn't have a computer scientist Justice who has nothing to do with patents. Except that the president and most senators are JDs and they keep nominating and confirming people just like themselves.

       

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    Lonyo, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:25pm

    Duh?

    Of course they don't understand these things.
    The people in power want to do whatever they want, the best way to get away with that is to give oversight and legal decisions to people who don't understand what you are doing, that way you can "explain" to them what you are doing, and they will let you get away with things because they still won't understand.

    It's not exactly a new concept, and it happens on a daily basis. If you do something complicated, it's more than likely that you can get away with pretending to explain it to someone above you, and at some point they will just say "OK, that sounds fine, I trust that you know what you are doing", without really understanding it.

    Partly you need to build up some trust initially, but considering it's the president and various long standing high security organisations, there is implicit trustworthiness. Then you just spew some jargon until they smile, nod, and let you get on with what you were doing.

     

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    Joseph Ratliff (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:26pm

    If my 76 year-old Grandfather can use email...

    ... so can they.

    There is absolutely NO justifiable reason in the world these Justices cannot (do not) use email. None.

    We're not asking them to figure out the Theory of Everything here... simply to write on the new "paper."

    This makes me wonder how many other members of Congress, Senate and the Administration are in this same boat (not using email).

    It's absolutely inexcusable that the figure heads of our country don't use 25 year old technology... and play it off as though "we're old people."

     

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      sorrykb (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:50pm

      Re: If my 76 year-old Grandfather can use email...

      My 100-year-old grandfather can use email (although he needs help now because he can't see very well).
      My 75-year-old father emails me cat videos.
      I think most of the Supreme Court justices fall somewhere between the two, age-wise. They should be able to manage. (Although if they realized the scope of the NSA spying, they might not want to.)

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:43pm

      Re: If my 76 year-old Grandfather can use email...

      I'm not sure it's the "we're old people" defense. I think it's more of the "I'm so rich and entitled, I have lackeys and underlings to manage these things so I don't have to" mentality.

       

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    ioconnor (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:26pm

    Conceit of the young.

    This article reminds me of every teenager looking down on the stupid parents who just don't get why the latest thing billy said is so cool. I suppose like trying to guide a teenager all you can do is point out the fundamentals and hope they piece it together themselves before they do harm.

    I myself, being older, think our current consumer oriented buy from China unable to do it yourself population is much like a teenager. Talking about technology... Do you use mutt? Do you use PGP? Do you store all email and back it up with maildir++? Have you started using bitmessage?

    The Justices may or may not be technically incompetent. They may or may not be good at anything for that matter. However it is not due to their age.

     

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      Rich, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:29pm

      Re: Conceit of the young.

      Most people aren't deciding constitutional issues for the entire country. You can excuse those "stupid parents" but not the supreme court justices. It is their duty to be knowledgeable on the issues they are deciding.

       

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        ioconnor (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 8:51pm

        Re: Re: Conceit of the young.

        Uh, the parents are not the stupid ones in my example. And in my example I point out that 99% of the people replying here who think the justices don't get it are themselves technically so far backwards they don't realize it. Just as in my examples the idiot teenagers are so lacking they don't understand the parents are thinking circles around them.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 11:17pm

          Re: Re: Re: Conceit of the young.

          How many times have parents and judges insisted to the younger generation that "ignorance is no excuse"?

          Consider this a comeuppance.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:39pm

      Re: Conceit of the young.

      It's a good idea to look down on the stupid parents who just don't get why the latest thing billy said is so cool, if the stupid parents are the ones making decisions on whether or not fucking around if that latest thing is unconstitutional or not. This isn't conceit of the young, so much as it is the conceit of the people who are sick and tired of the government fucking around unconstitutionally with our rights, and want the judges to actually do their jobs and provide the oversight they're supposed to on the government's insanity.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:31pm

    So they finally gave up quill pens? Maybe they'll make the jump to mimeographs and those teleophones some day...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:40pm

    Everyone sees this as a bad thing, something about them being Luddites.
    But look at it from this perspective:
    1) The Justices are all intelligent, whether we like their opinions or not.
    2) CJ Roberts appoints the Justices who are going to be on the FISA court.
    3) He presumably knows whats going on with NSA domestic surveillance and spying.
    4) What goes on behind the scenes of SCOTUS has traditionally been very private and secretive.
    5) The Court wants to keeps its communications secure and private.

    Ergo, SCOTUS knows EXACTLY what it is doing by avoiding any electronic or technical means of communications.

     

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    Atkray (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:51pm

    This begs the questions

    So what do they do with their iPhones?
    Are they similarly afraid of SMS?
    Why are we paying for people to walk documents around that could all be stored on a central server?

    Or have they known only too well what the NSA was up to and have been protecting themselves?

     

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    MM_Dandy, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 2:57pm

    Won't Last

    This e-mail thing is just a passing fad.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:00pm

    Kagan makes an off the cuff remark and suddenly the members of the Supreme Court are subject to being ridiculed because they purportedly do not "get" email. Frankly, the exchange of vetted formal memos sounds better to me than the snippets that make up most emails. Perhaps people here would prefer that the justices set up FB accounts, blog about cases and solicit ideas, publish tweets to the world, etc. Seems to me that "if it ain't broke don't fix it". Not everything demands the application of new technology.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:50pm

      Re:

      Uhh, vetting and formality are not exclusive to pieces of paper, and the rest of your comment is just a poor little straw man.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:05pm

    Are comments now being vetted before posting?

     

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    RD, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 3:23pm

    Good for the Goose?

    "It's easy for some people to say that you don't have to understand social networking to rule on such cases,"

    Uh, not around here its not. The usual detractors here are VERY SPECIFIC in their judgement of anyone here who criticizes or questions copyright, the law, or our government MUST BE someone FULLY versed and duly notorized, and also with years of direct experience (unless its Mike! then its "hand wave" away) or else they aren't qualified to even voice an OPINION on these subjects. How dare the unlicensed riff-raff comment on things they aren't experts in?

     

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    Guardian, Aug 21st, 2013 @ 5:31pm

    my 70 year old dad gets how to use email, im 44

    so what fucking excuse does a overly paid 53 year old have ot not get it? CAUSE THE NSA SPIES ON IT AND THEY DONT USE IT......they know......

    its the only reason

     

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    EdKless (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 7:18pm

    Meta Chambers Aid

    How about they just reveal the metadata about the chambers aides, you just who sent the message, to whom, how long was the memo, where other copied on it

     

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    Uriel-238 (profile), Aug 21st, 2013 @ 9:47pm

    We still need to encrypt everyone.

    Even if we require our overt government to get a warrant before looking at our mail doesn't mean they won't, and it doesn't mean other nations won't.

    We need to make it impossible (read: damn inconvenient) to read our email. Otherwise someone still will, legal or not.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 1:55am

    and how many people have been saying this exact same thing for how long? it's exactly the same for all cases that are resided over by judges that are Internet Idiots. the other most notable cases being those concerning copyright infringement. however, i assume this ignorance is what the entertainment industries have been relying on. the other thing is, if the judges had sufficient knowledge of how things work, perhaps the ridiculous amount of '$150,000 per infringement' would be dropped to a sensible level, like '$1'!!

     

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    Shon Gale, Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 4:47am

    Maybe they need to go back to school to get tech training. Maybe they need a student loan!

     

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    RyanNerd (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 6:06am

    The times and woes of Obama

    Aide: Sorry sir. One of the older supreme court justices wandered off again.
    Prez: Damn, the last time this happened we found him half nude bathing in a public foutain while singing God bless America. Do you know how much trouble that was to cover up?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 9:56am

    An alternate explanation

    Perhaps they know something about the security of email that we (theoretically) don't know.

     

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    Rob McMillin (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 10:34am

    Playing coy

    I bet they do, but they don't let on.

    Transparency requirements (and, as others have mentioned, internal government spying operations) mean life gets a lot harder for them if they have and use e-mail.

     

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    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), Aug 22nd, 2013 @ 4:02pm

    Supreme Court doesn't need email!

    they just get in their horseless carriage and motor across the village to whomoever they choose to call on. If that doesn't work then the Pony Express is always an option!

     

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    Brian F. Jordan MSgt USMC ret, Nov 28th, 2013 @ 10:18pm

    Have any Justices Read the Constitution or American History

    First, Separation of Church has always been known to have been taken out of context from a letter of Thomas Jefferson. However in 1963 the Secular humanist with the help of Congress and the Supremes. I realize Kaga feels those of us who have read the Constitution are to dumb to understand it. So since she and Ruth Ginsberg are together maybe Ruth can explain why the 10 Commandmants were good enough for her family but not our country. Judge Kennedy while erring with the left at least realizes the POTUS is the real danger to America Kagan is to ignorant to understand that the Military tried to stop the Middle Eastern Wars. General Tony Zinni resigned and the military had to teach the Congress the law. This is like trying to explain ROTC to a na´ve woman her Rights are protected by those horrible creatures. The POTUS picked her because he feels the Vets are whiners and potential terrorists. My 10 busted vertebrae, blind in one eye partly and deaf in both ears. cost the government 8 yrs. of my family in poverty and 12 year below the lower middle class. You can see why her presence is such a delight to us.
    She hates us and knows us not. She is paid an obscene amount of money to pervert the Constitution. Clarence Thomas is quiet because he listens. The young Harvard Professor might benefit by imitating an honest man. How is it that a Blackman who feels he is a man and not a victim is an Uncle Tom? When another given the Presidency after BEING GIVEN A SENATORIAL SEAT says we are victims. Well he is partially correct. The press knew his father to be Marxist Revolutionary and his mother a Soviet Socialist. That his religious practices as a child were Muslim. Then after he pisses away 31 Billion in bribes to Afghanistans President and Healthcare doesn't work he blames the rich. The richest Congress persons are DEMOCRATS. To hear his Royal Hine Ass only white Republicans are rich and caused the United States problems. Counting 3 Trillion for Bushes unpaid successful war. Obama has still pissed away ten TRILLION. My state has more on Welfare than Work. Of Course we have a Socialist Governor who was a DSA poster boy and Obamas Mentor. He taught Obama how to be inefficient and get re elected He has cut retired healthcare and stopped civilian healthcare. Now the WASHINGTON POST says perhaps he over reached his powers. The GOP will make a resurgence.
    I don't believe anyone could do worse. He has bent rules and misused Executive Orders in numbers dictators would love. Now in America we are supposed to have checks and balances. What we have are a government that collects Cheques from Industry and Unions and have forgotten how to balance the National Debt. Larry Summers said it doesn't matter. It mattered when he was in Treasury. 9 Generals resigned when asked if they would fire on Americans. He'll another McCarthur. All Executive Legislative and Judicial Bldgs will soon have Red Lights for truth in advertising.
    That is an unfair comment Hookers work.

     

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