U.S. Supreme Court to hear text privacy case

Chris Rizo Dec. 29, 2009, 4:27am

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a case that will decide whether employees' text message sent by devices owned by their employer are private.

The case specifically will examine whether a California police department violated the constitutional rights of an employee when it inspected personal text messages -- some of which were sexually explicit -- sent and received by a pager owned by the city of Ontario, Calif.

The case could have broad implications for employee privacy rights.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the police officer, Sgt. Jeff Quon, had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The appeals court found that the police chief's decision to read the pager's text messages without a suspicion of wrongdoing violated the officer's 4th Amendment constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

Quon said he and other officers on the SWAT team were told by a superior they could use their pagers so long as they paid out of their pockets if they used more than 25,000 characters per month.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson in Riverside, Calif., rejected the city's motion to dismiss Quon's case before trial.

"What are the legal boundaries of an employee's privacy in this interconnected, electronic-communication age, one in which thoughts and ideas that would have been spoken personally and privately in ages past are now instantly text-messaged to friend and family via
hand-held, computer-assisted electronic devices?" the judge ruled.

The case is City of Ontario v. Quon, No. 08-1332.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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