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Supreme Court of U.S. to Rule on Text Message Privacy

By Minara El-Rahman | Last updated on

Do you have a right to text message privacy on a work issued electronic device? Apparently some sexually inappropriate police officers in Ontario, California think so.

The Supreme Court of the United States will rule on text message privacy and the workplace. According to the Baltimore Sun, the four police officers sued their police department after their text messages were read by the police chief. Some of the text messages were sexually explicit in nature.

The 9th Circuit Court held that the officers had a "reasonable expectation of privacy" because they were led to believe that they could use their pager for personal use. This is the first appellate court ruling that applies work issued electronic devices to rights of privacy as outlined in the Constitution.

However, as we wrote about in Free Enterprise, the issue of privacy in work issued email is dictated by the employer. Even with the 9th Circuit Court ruling, it hinged on the fact that the police department was unclear about using the pager for personal use. The city of Ontario did warn that personal use of work issued electronics is not allowed. 

My advice? If you are an employee who is unsure about your privacy rights with your own work issued electronic device, just avoid personal use. Otherwise you can find yourself in hot water. You don't want to find yourself in trouble over controversial use that will open up your liability as well as your employer's liability. 

If you are an employer, make it clear to employees if you plan to monitor their activity on work issued electronics. What your employees say via these electronics could get you into trouble for sexual harassment (sexting), racial discrimination, or could be potentially embarassing for your business.

Either way, I would advise employees and employers to stay tuned to what the Supreme Court ultimately rules in this case.

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