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Breaking News: Supreme Court Issues Decision in Employee Privacy Case

Written by Martha Zackin

As we’ve blogged in this space,, back in December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear City of Ontario v. Quon, a case on the privacy of text messages sent by a government employee on employer-provided devices. Specifically, the Court agreed to consider whether a police sergeant assigned to a Ontario, California SWAT team had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in sexually-explicit, non-work related text messages transmitted on a department-issued pager and stored by an outside service provider even in the face of the City’s "general practice" of non-monitoring of such communications.

Today, the Court issued its opinion, finding that the City’s search of Sergeant Quon’s text messages to his colleagues and the woman with whom he was having an affair was reasonable. Although the Court did not reach agreement on whether and to what extent government workers have any reasonable expectation of privacy in communications such as those at issue here, the Court did agree that the search was reasonable.

The impact of this decision may be limited to Sergeant Quon and his co-workers; the Court explicitly cautioned against using the facts of the case to establish “far-reaching premises that define the existence, and extent, of privacy expectations enjoyed by employees when using employer-provided communication devices.”

More to come.

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Cynthia J. Larose

Member / Chair, Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice

Cynthia J. Larose is Chair of the firm's Privacy & Cybersecurity Practice, a Certified Information Privacy Professional-US (CIPP-US), and a Certified Information Privacy Professional-Europe (CIPP-E). She works with clients in various industries to develop comprehensive information security programs on the front end, and provides timely counsel when it becomes necessary to respond to a data breach.