At Last! The Supreme Court Knows What a Pager Is

Country's top justices also learn about concept of email.

At Last! The Supreme Court Knows What a Pager Is

Country’s top justices also learn about concept of email.

-Jane Farrell

Judge with gaval

Call us psychic, but somehow we just know that the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rush out to buy an iPad.

Earlier this week, the court heard arguments in a case that could have implications for sneaky employees everywhere: whether the city of Ontario, California, has the right to monitor text messages sent by police officers on pagers that have been officially issued to them. In the case, an officer used a city-owned pager to send sexy messages to his estranged wife and his co-worker girlfriend. He claimed he had a reasonable expectation of privacy while doing so even though the city had employees sign statements acknowledging that they could not expect privacy on official communications devices.

In arguing against the officer, the Obama administration, on behalf of the city, said that thousands of private companies have already told employees that they can’t expect any privacy when using company cell phones or computers.

Read Sexting Do’s and Don’ts

During the argument, the justices asked questions that suggested their knowledge of portable electronics devices might have ended with the Walkman.

At one point, Chief Justice John Roberts asked, “What’s the difference between an email and a pager?”

Then Justice Anthony Kennedy asked what happens if someone gets a text message while he is sending one. “Does it say, ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you’”?

The court also expressed puzzlement over the role of a service provider in text messaging.

“I thought, you know, you push a button; it goes right to the other thing,” Roberts said.

“You mean it doesn’t go to the other thing?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia.

Roberts, the only justice who appeared favorable to the officer’s argument, didn’t seem sure whether employees actually believed the privacy policy was in effect. Comparing the policy to the fine print on a parking ticket, he said, “It doesn’t apply because nobody reads it.” (We’ll remember that when we’re trying to break our apartment lease.)

In choosing a replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the Obama administration is no doubt putting all candidates through a grueling interview process. Our suggestion: add a consumer-electronics quiz to the mix. (Wall Street Journal)

More News: Has texting replaced talking?…

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