Court Rules Workers Texts Are Private

    June 19, 2008

Employees have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" for text messages under the U.S. constitution, a federal appeals court in California ruled Wednesday.

Due to this expectation, employers do not have the right to read employees text messages without the employee’s knowledge and consent, a three- judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in a lawsuit filed in Ontario, California by police Sgt. Jeff Quon and three others against the city’s service provider, the city and its police department for violating the employees right against unreasonable searches.

The city informed employees it may monitor their emails, but the informal policy was that text messages sent over city-owned pagers would not be monitored, the court said. If an employee went over the city’s 25,000 character limit on texts messages, they were responsible for the overage charges.

When Quon went over the limit, the police chief requested a transcript from provider Arch Wireless. The court said the reading of the transcripts to determine if the text were work related was not reasonable.

"There were a host of simple ways to verify the efficacy of the 25,000 character limit (if that, indeed, was the intended purpose) without intruding … on Fourth Amendment rights,"Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the panel.