The U.S. Supreme Court is and will continue to be very important in deciding cases that will determine the future of the technology and the Internet, i.e., the future itself. But 72-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer readily admits that he and his colleagues have no idea how this “Digital Surfing Board” works or why people use it. “‘If I’m applying the First Amendment, I have to apply it to a world where there’s an Internet, and there’s Facebook, and there are movies like … The Social Network, which I couldn’t even understand,’ he said.” So the Internet is like a picture box that earns Harvard students lots of money? Does it grant wishes with genie magic? Do you plug your brain into it so it knows what kind of pornography you like? These are the kinds of questions Supreme Court justices are asking each other about this odd thing they could suddenly make illegal if they wanted to.
Although Breyer was making a point about judicial philosophy, he also touched on the court’s sometimes limited grasp of technological developments. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts in a public employee privacy case before the court earlier this year tried to figure out the role of a text-messaging service in enabling an exchange between two people.
“I thought, you know, you push a button; it goes right to the other thing,” Roberts said. Responded Justice Antonin Scalia: “You mean it doesn’t go right to the other thing?”
Yes, it could be slightly helpful for the most powerful judges in the land to understand how a basic text message works, before we destroy the innocence of these ingenues with the revelation that teenagers are constantly making child pornography of themselves and sending it to people via this very service. Yes, someday we will have to try to explain to them that one can also send moving pictures to “the other thing.” And that day will be frustrating.
Recently, Anthony Kennedy wondered aloud why teevee “v-chips,” those beeper-era devices in cable boxes that allow parents to block programming based on its age rating, do not block violent video games on teevees:
“V-chips won’t work?” Kennedy asked, before the lawyer politely explained they are limited to television programming.
Well, it’s nice that the Supreme Court is at least aware that they have no idea what they’re doing when they rule on technology cases. And really, what should we expect? These are nine people who are afraid to let television cameras into their hearings because the devices would steal their souls. [WP]