Supreme Court Will Hear Privacy Case Involving Text Messaging

Lora Bentley

Text messages and the privacy we can expect to have in them (or not have in them) have been all over the news lately, thanks to Tiger Woods. Though his messages were of a personal nature, the situation raises questions about text messaging in a business context, too. I wrote a little about that last week.


Shortly thereafter, I had the opportunity to speak with Greenebaum, Doll & McDonald associate attorney James Herr. Since I just heard him speak about social networking in the corporate environment, most of my questions addressed corporate social-networking policies. Those I will discuss in a later post. But because news of Woods' text messages was everywhere, I thought I'd pick Herr's brain on text messaging in the business context while I had the chance.


First, Herr was quick to note that every company has its own requirements regarding the use of company-issued equipment, whether you're talking about a computer, a smartphone or a pager. Moreover, he said, Woods' situation is different because his were personal texts sent using a personal phone. Typically, company-issued equipment is to be used on company time, for business purposes.


The degree of privacy to which an employee is entitled regarding messages sent and received via company equipment is usually determined on case-by-case basis after looking at the company's policy on the proper use of that equipment and what is permitted versus what is not. Makes sense, right?


But apparently, I'm not the only one asking these questions. Monday, Herr sent me a link to's coverage of USA Mobility Wireless Inc. v. Quon. Writer Bill Mears says:

The Supreme Court decided Monday that it will determine whether a police officer has a "reasonable expectation" of privacy on his official wireless two-way text-messaging pager... At issue is how far a government employer may go to monitor the private communications of its workers when they believe that the use of such equipment is being abused. And the court will explore whether service providers can be held liable for providing those communications without the consent of the sender.

The story says the court will hear oral arguments in the case next spring.

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