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Why You Should Care About Your Supreme Court Justices

For many of us “regular people” working in technology, the Supreme Court Justice appointment system is an obscure political process into which we have little input. However, as recent events demonstrate, the individuals assigned life long Supreme Court powers can have a tremendous impact on how our technology and our entrepreneurial activities play in the legal and civil world in which we live. Quite simply, as the following shows, the individuals appointed to the Supreme Court can personally decide whether your pioneering entrepreneurial activities are legal or illegal.

All you domainers, Internet marketers and web publishers should think about that. As you forge new rules as entrepreneurs, taking action first and expecting to sort it all out later, select individuals are making judgements that can make or break your financial status as well as your social status after the fact. Should you pay more careful attention to who gets elected, and who they want on the Supreme Court?

According to a recent release from E.P.I.C., the Supreme court ruled that police trusting their database/technology can arrest someone and pursue additional criminal evidence against them, even if the initial arrest was misguided because of something like a database error. Despite the initial mistake, new evidence found is admissible as evidence for new charges. Think about that. The “mistake” that got you interrogated is forgivable, and if they found anything using the capture/seize/interrogation powers they were granted by that error (powers they otherwise do not have, since you have Constitutional rights), you lose.

We all know how common errors are in the systems we build and use everyday, but did we know that something as serious as law enforcement is trusting those systems with our freedom at this very local level? Now enter the Supreme Court Justice once again, a few years later. When considering very similar situation more recently, the same Supreme Court Justice decided completely differently, citing a new (personal?) perspective on technology and its application. This time, the statement is (as reported by E.P.I.C.):

“In recent years, we have witnessed the advent of powerful, computer-based record keeping systems that facilitate arrests in ways that have never before been possible. The police, of course, are entitled to enjoy the substantial advantages this technology confers. They may not, however, rely on it blindly. With the benefits of more efficient law enforcement mechanisms comes the burden of corresponding constitutional responsibilities.”

So before, based on an individual’s perspective, the ruling was

…a man was searched, evidence was gathered against him, and he was arrested based on incorrect information in a government database..the police relied on an arrest warrant that had been rescinded five months before…Justice O’Connor “notes that the invocation of the good-faith exception…should depend on the reasonableness of the police officers’ reliance on the record keeping system itself…

and the evidence found was allowed. Now, that same case is being reconsidered because that opinion doesn’t seem to be in place today:

…Justice O’Connor also wrote, “In recent years, we have witnessed the advent of powerful, computer-based record keeping systems that facilitate arrests in ways that have never before been possible. The police, of course, are entitled to enjoy the substantial advantages this technology confers. They may not, however, rely on it blindly. With the benefits of more efficient law enforcement mechanisms comes the burden of corresponding constitutional responsibilities.”

Now I am not a lawyer, and I had to cut up alot of that to help it make sense here, including the legally-important fact that the first error was made by a court clerk and not a police officer, but it seems to me that the individuals on the Supreme Court have a tremendous amount of power interpreting the impact of complex technologies we build, and which our non-tech neighbors are deciding to deploy in our society every day. These are older people, by the way, not raised on technology and not likely to “get” much of what we type into our keyboards every day.

Something to think about?

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