Our opinion: A text to Beacon Hill
The state Supreme Judicial Court made what Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless described in Tuesday’s Eagle as a "common sense" ruling involving text messages in court cases, and in fact, the SJC had nothing else to rely on. Advances in communications technology have left the state’s wiretapping law decades behind, and updating it should be a priority.
Attorney Edward St. John III argued before the state Supreme Court that the state’s wiretap laws are too vague when it comes to modern technology like cellphones and text messages in wiretap warrants and evidence gained from them should not be used in court. A client of Mr. St. John is facing drug-related charges brought by the Berkshire County Task Force with those forms of wiretaps among the evidence. The SJC applied a broader interpretation that allowed cellphones and texts to be included in the category of wireless communications. Mr. St. John said he respected the SJC’s decision and along with other representatives of the Berkshire legal community agreed that it provided some needed clarification.
The issue arose in large part because the applicable state law was written in 1968 and hasn’t been updated since. The law hails from the era when President Richard Nixon was "bugging" Democrats and, as it turns out, his own office, producing old-fashioned tapes whose contents chased him from office. This technology can now be seen in old movies, and at that time, "Star Trek" was pioneering the kind of communications technology seen today.
Attorney David Pixley, who echoed the "common sense" approach of the SJC in its ruling, told The Eagle that the Legislature "should have dealt with this issue a long time ago." The next advance in communications technology is probably right around the corner, and the Legislature has some catching up to do.