The clerk for the District of South Carolina has reportedly issued the following message:
In the interest of safety and security in the federal courthouses throughout the District of South Carolina, the United States Marshal requests that attorneys and/or their staffs not allow prisoners, defendants, and/or their families to have unmonitored access to laptop computers, iPads, or similar devices. These items may be used as weapons against those present in court. Additionally, allowing unmonitored use of these devices provides in-custody prisoners unsupervised access to the internet and an opportunity to plan escapes and assaults.
This seems a little questionable to me.
First, it would of course be entirely possible for a prisoner or defendant (or even a family member) to whack someone with an iPad. I don't think the edges are sharp enough to do any real damage, but I wouldn't want some Oddjob emulator to sail one across the room at me, either. The problem, though, is that there are all kinds of other things in a courtroom that you could also use to whack somebody. Chairs, for example. Or heavy law books, or microphones, or a lawyer's briefcase, or (depending on the circumstances) a lawyer. But none of those things are banned.
For that matter, it is entirely possible for a defendant to assault someone with a writing implement. Or multiple someones. See, e.g., "Man Who Stabbed His First Two Lawyers With a Pencil Stabs Another Lawyer With a Pencil," Lowering the Bar (Nov. 2, 2011). But nobody proposes banning those. So I'm not really sure the security rationale works here.
The second rationale is that if allowed unmonitored use of the internet, a prisoner might be able to plan an escape. (Or an "assault," but see above.) Really? I can't say I've done exhaustive research on this, but I haven't found any examples of an escape or attempted escape from a courthouse or prison that was planned with the help of the internet. If they mean email, I guess that could make communication easier. And it's not like the government can read their email! Ha ha! No. But would restricting access to the internet for prisoners, or defendants, "and/or their families" (!) actually make a difference in terms of planning an escape?
I don't know. I took a quick shot at it, using this diagram of a typical courtroom. See what you think. I did find the diagram using the internet, but I'm not sure how much additional help this would provide to someone who's planning to flee a courtroom. (Nor did this guy, for example, need any technology more advanced than a suit to do that.) And if they're worried about prison escapes, I'm thinking the thing to do is fix the prison, not worry about internet access.
This is not to make light of courtroom security concerns overall—those are very real and very justified—but I'm just not sure that restricting internet access or devices is really going to address those concerns.
I would support banning bowler hats, or hats of any kind, really, but for entirely different reasons.