Supreme Court: Privacy? Not on the Company’s Phone

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Rule of thumb: Before you send that dirty text on your company-owned cell phone, imagine that the Supreme Court is going to read it.

If you don’t want your boss to read it, don’t text it on his phone – or one the company provided. That was the message from the Supreme Court today (June 17, 2010).

The Court unanimously upheld a police department’s right to search an officer’s sexy texts on a police department-owned pager, saying the search didn’t violate his constitutional right to privacy.

The case arose when the Ontario, Calif., police department audited the pagers of some of their SWAT team members to see if they were being used too often for personal purposes. One of the cops, Jeff Quon, had sent a lot of personal messages, including some that were apparently exceedingly personal. In one month alone, of 456 messages sent during his shift, 400 were personal.

Quon and three recipients of his messages sued, saying their right to privacy had been violated. The Supreme Court disagreed.

The city of Ontario, like many employers, has a policy that warns employees that employer-owned electronic devices, including computers, phones and pagers, do not include a guarantee of privacy.

According to this AP/CNBC report, Justice Kennedy said that while many companies tolerate the personal use of employer-owned communications equipment, that doesn’t guarantee the privacy of those choosing to do so.

Lesson? Don’t text anything on your company’s equipment that you don’t want read at the Supreme Court.

You can read the case yourself here.

Stacy Johnson

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