Monday, December 14, 2009

Text Message Privacy Hits SCOTUS

The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in City of Ontario (California) v. Quon. The Court will likely address public employees' privacy expectations in text messages sent on employer-issued pagers.

In the City's brief (.pdf), it defines the primary issue as:
"Whether a SWAT team member has a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages transmitted on his SWAT pager, where the police department has an official no-privacy policy but a non-policymaking lieutenant announced an informal policy of allowing some personal use of the pagers."
In the opposition brief (.pdf), respondents present the issue as:
"Whether a SWAT team member has a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages transmitted on his SWAT pager, where the police department has no formal no-privacy policy pertaining to text message transmissions and the operational realities of the police department are such that SWAT team members are explicitly told their messages would remain private if they paid any additional overage charges."
The parties also briefed the expectation of privacy for people sending text messages to the public employee. I'm looking forward to some good public employee privacy analysis from the Court. In the meantime, O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709 (1987) is a good primer.

For some good background on Ontario v. Quon see: