In dealing with cases on Internet censorship, music piracy, and digital GPS tracking, the Supreme Court needs a good understanding of how the Internet functions. So it's with a fair amount of worry to read yet another example of their total inability to work with the World Wide Web. On Monday, The New York Times cites a study that found the court is quite fond of linking to Internet articles in making its arguments — but almost half of those links are now broken.
That study looked at the 555 digital links in Court cases since 1996 and found that 49 percent of those led to nowhere. The reasons come down to "link rot," or the basic decay of articles online over time. But link rot didn't just affect old pieces, as a case from February already has a dead link in it. This link death was the same across the type of link, too, be it PDF, HTML, or other, according to another study in the Yale Journal of Law and Society. "The modern Supreme Court opinion is increasingly built on sand," the Times writes.
To be fair to the court, link rot is just a regular consequence of using the Internet over time. But it's hard not to notice the justices' average age of 67 years when the court makes major decisions on the future of the Internet. For example, the Times reports, "For proof that many dog owners use six-foot leashes, for instance, Justice [Samuel] Alito included a link to About.com." For regular Internet users, About.com is obviously not the most trusted source; Alito might as well have linked to Yahoo Answers. But for a group that "hasn't really 'gotten to' email," according to Justice Elana Kagan, it's evident of a broader issue.