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Supreme Court to Hear Officers' Text-Message Privacy Case

Supreme Court to Hear Officers' Text-Message Privacy Case

(Stock Photo)

The Los Angeles Times via YellowBrix

December 15, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – The Supreme Court said today it would rule for the first time on whether employees have a right to privacy when they send text messages on electronic devices supplied by their employers.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal from a police department in Ontario, Calif., that was successfully sued by Sgt. Jeff Quon and three other officers after their text messages — some of which were sexually explicit — were read by the police chief.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals broke new ground by ruling that the police officers had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their text messages. The officers had been led to believe by a supervisor that the devices were also for personal use, the appeals court said.

A Supreme Court ruling on the issue, due by June, could set new rules for the workplace at a time when most employees use computers, cellphones or texting devices as part of their job. The 9th Circuit’s opinion was the first from a federal appeals court to hold that the Constitution protected the privacy rights of workers who were using electronic devices supplied by their employer.

City officials in Ontario said they had told their employees, including the police officers, that they did not have a guarantee of privacy when using city-supplied texting devices. The police chief said the devices were to be used for official police business, and he asked to see the messages to determine whether the devices were being used for mostly personal message. The Arch Wireless Co., which provided the texting service, turned over transcripts to the chief.

Quon and three other officers sued after they learned their messages had been read. Last year, the appeals court ruled that the police chief’s inspection violated the officers’ rights under the 4th Amendment. It also found the wireless company violated the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act when it turned over the messages without the consent of Quon.

The case has drawn wide interest among privacy advocates. Until the 9th Circuit ruling, most judges had said employers who provide computers, cellphones or texting devices for their workers were entitled to control how those devices were used. Most employers, including the city of Ontario, had a formal policy that said employees did not have a privacy right when they were sending e-mails or other messages.

The city told employees it “reserves the right to monitor and log all network activity including e-mail and Internet use, with or without notice.”

In their appeal, lawyers for Ontario and its police department said the 9th Circuit’s ruling, if upheld, would affect public employers across the nation. The part of its opinion involving wireless service providers also could affect private companies.

“It is not objectively reasonable to expect privacy in a message sent to someone else’s workplace pager, let alone a police officer’s department-used pager,” the city argued.

The high court said it would hear arguments in the case, City of Ontario vs. Quon, in the spring and issue a decision by the end of June.

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  • Photo_user_banned_big


    about 4 years ago


    With so many mobile phone deals now you can get loads of texts probably 1000's

  • Car6_max50


    over 4 years ago


    IF you want privacy, then spend your own money for your own device, that's my opinion.

  • Clip_art_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I know we make enough money here in California to afford your own cell phone.....

  • Wolf_max50


    over 4 years ago


    If your going to send sexually explicit text messages, it's only common sense to use your own phone that's in your name and paid for by you.

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Its public record of the city's owned devises even though they were intended as private.

  • Donut_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I was under the impression that all communications on department equipment was public record. The video/audio from your car, phone calls, Email, text, AVL units on the vehicles etc, etc....

  • Cot_max50


    over 4 years ago


    i would think that the Supreme Court would have more important issues to deal with

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    I have to agree clobster, if they were led to believe that they could use these devices for personal use, then yes they were in the right. What I think they were wrong and used poor judgement for is the content they sent. i think they meant personal like " pick little johnny up after school Im running late" not something that is Rated MA.

    All of our email, etc are subject to public disclosure.. so Im pretty darn careful about what I say, You never know whose hands your stuff can end up in.

  • My_kids_027_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I'm kinda curious as to how this is gonna turn out. I personally feel like if it belongs to the department they should have the right to check it at any time they please, but I guess we'll see.

  • Where_i_want_to_be_one_day_on_the_motor_division_max50


    over 4 years ago


    If it's county,city, or state property then shouldn't that be a clue as to what you should do and not do with it. Texting should be done on your personal, at least save the expicit texts for your personal cell phone.

  • Native_clip_art_4_049_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Better watch what you put on any device because it may come back to bite you. If its the departments device you cant claim privacy. Going to be interesting in the final decision.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    Lets use common sense people

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    I agree with Irishcop.
    Can't claim privacy on a Dept or Company device... Get your own.

  • Untitledma28839986-0002_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I would suggest you want to send personal stuff by text you do it on your own cell phone.

  • Police_link_badge_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Gee...Just use your brain......................

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