The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case where public employees claimed a local government violated their privacy by reading racy text messages they sent on their employers' account.
The employer, the Ontario, Calif., police department, said it acted reasonably in monitoring the text messages in view of its written policy warning employees they have no guarantee of privacy in the use of office computer and electronics equipment.
The case arose when the Ontario department decided to audit text message usage to see whether its SWAT team officers were using them too often for personal reasons. Three police officers and another employee complained that the department improperly snooped on their electronic exchanges, including many that were said to be sexually explicit.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the informal policy was enough to give the officers a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in their text messages and establish that their constitutional rights had been violated. The appeals court also faulted the text-messaging service for turning over transcripts of the messages without the officers' consent. The court declined to hear the appeal of USA Mobility Wireless, Inc., which bought the text-messaging service involved in the case.
A decision is expected later this year.