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Beware! Bosses Can Check Your Text Messages

Beware! Bosses Can Check Your Text Messages

Eve Tahmincioglu |

Let’s face it, most employees use their company-issued pagers, phones, laptops for personal reasons sometimes. It’s just the way life is now — the lines between work life and personal life are becoming more and more blurred as workers seem to be working round the clock these days.

But if you do use these devices for a message or text you want to remain private you’re out of luck. That’s the message the U.S. Supreme Court sent today when the justices unanimously ruled your boss can snoop, even if your manager tells you it’s okay to use such devices for personal reasons.

The case the high court ruled on involved a cop, his wife and his mistress.

Jeff Quon, a California SWAT sergeant, was given a pager from his employer, the Ontario Police Department. He was later found to have used the device not only for work but also for pleasure, often sending sexually explicit text messages to his wife and his mistress.

Quon’s employer found out about his personal use of the pager after an investigation looking into excessive texting at the department.

Quon cried foul and took the department to court. His case hinged on the fact that his commanding officer told him he could use the device for personal matters if he just paid for the overage charges. The sergeant took this arrangement as an expectation of privacy; and a lower court found in his favor.

In Quon’s case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the officer had a reasonable expectation of privacy because he paid for the overusage charges on his pager, and the police department had lax procedures for auditing employee messages.

Even though Quon’s case is about public employees, and the lower court’s decision was based on the Fourth Amendment — which guards against unreasonable search and seizure by the government — private employees were also expected to be affected if the Supreme Court did not uphold the lower court’s ruling, Ann Hodges, professor of law at the University of Richmond, told me in April.

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