U.S. Supreme Court to hear 'sexting' case

By Kathy Woods | Apr 17, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will hear the case of whether employees' text messages sent by an employer-owned device are considered private.

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

Some of the text messages read by police department officials were sexually explicit, court papers indicate.

The case could have broad implications for employee privacy rights and answer questions about new technologies. It is being heard after the Inland Valley city appealed to the high court.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2008 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 SWAT team officers 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.

Before the trial, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson rejected the city's motion to dismiss.

"What are the legal boundaries of an employees' 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?" ruled Larson, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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

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