Supreme Court: What’s the difference ‘between email and a pager?’

Supreme Court (via

There is a court case being heard by the United States Supreme Court concerning “the California SWAT officer who sued the city of Ontario for violation of his privacy after his employer reviewed the messages he sent on his work-issued pager. He had been using the pager for personal text messages — notably for steamy SMSes to his estranged wife and to his girlfriend with whom he worked. (More background here.),”  according to True/

Regardless of where you fall on the subject of employers being able to look at personal data on work-issued devices, the problem with this case is clear. The Supreme Court is technologically illiterate. After all, they aren’t a bunch of spring chickens sitting on the bench of the nation’s highest court (John Paul Stevens, 89; Antonin Scalia, 73; Anthony Kennedy, 73; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76; Stephen Breyer, 71).

Why should they be decided a case with technology as the primary component when they don’t understand technology? Here are a few examples of their ineptitude, as reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog:

  • Chief Justice John Roberts asked what the difference was “between email and a pager?”
  • Justice Anthony Kennedy asked what would happen if a text message was sent to an officer at the same time he was sending one to someone else. “Does it say: ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you?'” Kennedy asked.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia stumbled getting his arms around with the idea of a service provider. “You mean (the text) doesn’t go right to me?” he asked.
  • Then [Scalia] asked whether they can be printed out in hard copy. “Could Quon print these spicy little conversations and send them to his buddies?” Scalia asked.

Holy crap!

These people are in charge of an important legal case and precedent-setting decision? We’re screwed.

We live in a technology-drive society now. Our court systems need to keep up with it. If they don’t, the consequences could be dire.

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My name is Todd Vogts. I am an assistant professor of media. I like the color green, riding my motorcycle, and being with my family and friends. A good book is a perfect companion for me any time, and I'm a published author and journalist. Visit my website at and follow me on Twitter at

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