By: Amanda Sundquist
The United States Supreme Court has issued a decision in City of Ontario v. Quon, which was discussed in my May 13, 2010 blog entry. At issue in the case was whether a member of the police SWAT team had a reasonable expectation of privacy in text messages transmitted on a SWAT pager.
Given the continuing evolution of workplace norms for communication technology, the Court declined to make a determination regarding employees’ privacy expectations for employer-provided technological equipment. Instead the Court determined the case on Fourth Amendment search law.
The Court determined, even if the employee had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his text messages, the Fourth Amendment was not violated in reviewing the messages. The Court utilized the “special needs” of the work place exception. The search was found to be justified as it was reasonably necessary for a noninvestigatory work-related purpose; the determination of whether employees were being forced to pay for work-related text message overages. The scope of search, the review of the transcripts, was found to be reasonable, as the review was limited to certain months and only to messages sent during work hours. Finally, the Court found the employee was reasonably aware that an audit of messages to determine whether the pager was being appropriately used was possible. The Court found the search to be reasonable.
While this case involved public governmental employees, the Court also concluded that this search would have been reasonable in the private employer context.
If you have questions regarding this decision and how it may impact your technology policies, please contact Amanda Sundquist in our West Chester office.