In his latest column, Declan McCullagh considers Tom DeLay's odd attack on Justice Kennedy and internet research. McCullagh thinks that the bug man may have actually, if inadvertently, raised an issue worthy of further examination: Defending DeLay's Internet assault: "But there are also problems with unfettered Googling from the bench. Is it appropriate for judges to investigate the backgrounds of jurors, perhaps even scrolling through their home pages and family photo albums? Should judges scour the Net for reports on a topic rather than relying on traditional rules of evidence?"
The examples that McCullagh finds do not lend much support to the idea that there is a wide-spread or systemic misuse of internet resources by judges, but the overall idea does raise the issue of information literacy among lawyers. Recently, I discussed information literacy and its important role in educating today's students in a post at my other blog.
Lawyers need to be savvy in terms of finding, using, and properly citing internet sources. Fortunately, most lawyers are sufficiently inquisitive and well-read to be able to investigate the accuracy and credentials of an internet source. In fact, because lawyers are so risk-averse, many likely choose to be more skeptical of internet resources than is necessary.
Of course, the rules of evidence check the misuse of unsubstantiated sources. Appellate review provides another check (improper reliance on bad sources should be considered an abuse of discretion).