Supreme Court Reverses Case Involving Government Employees' Privacy Rights in Non-Work Text Messages

As I previously reported 12/14/09 and 12/16/09, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in reversing a Federal District Court decision, held that employees of the police department of the City of Ontario, California, had a right of privacy in text messages sent on their city-owned alphanumeric pagers, even though their messages did not comply with city directives and even though the numerous non-business messages sent during work hours included private messages, many of which were to another city employee and were sexual in nature.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion announced June 17, 2010 reversed the court of appeals and says that while there may be an expectation of privacy in the text messages, the city’s motive in auditing (and reading) the messages had a legitimate business purpose, and thus did not constitute an illegal search under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The business purpose claimed by the city for the audit was to determine whether or not the monthly number of text messages set by the city was too low, resulting in employee/users being required to pay for work-related messages.
Moral: If you are a city employee and are told that there is a specific limit on the number of text messages you can send on city-owned pagers, and are told that messages may be audited and read by the city; and if you exceed the limit and most of your messages during working hours are private messages, some of which are sex-related, maybe you should have at least a hint that your private messages may not be secure as you had hoped.

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