U.S. Supreme Court Hears Police Department 'Sexting' Case

Lora Bentley

I first heard about Sgt. Jeff Quon of the Ontario, Calif., police department last December when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear his case. After Quon was reprimanded for sending an excessive number of personal text messages - many of which were sexual in nature - via his department-issued pager, he argued the department violated his privacy rights by looking at the content of the messages.

 

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case on Monday, framing the key issue as follows: [Does] a SWAT team member [have] 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.

 

According to FoxNews.com, the justices seem to be leaning in favor of upholding the employer's right to audit the messages. Justice Stephen Breyer particularly so, says writer Lee Ross. Breyer said:

The city owns the pager. It's a pager used for work. They are giving a privilege to people if they want to use it off work...I don't see anything, quite honestly, unreasonable about [the search], where you are the employer ... where you are paying for this in the first place.

Chief Justice John Roberts, on the other hand, was apparently more interested in Quon's expectation of privacy - especially given the police department's informal policy to allow "some personal use" of the department pagers. According to FOXNews.com:

Roberts said "it would be reasonable for (Quon) to assume that private messages were his business" ... and that a subsequent search of Quon's texting history violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

If the court comes down in favor of the city and the police department, many employees in all kinds of other fields will likely reconsider how they use their company-issued mobile devices. A decision is expected by the end of June.



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