Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Supreme Court hears case on employers snooping on personal use of communications devices; may have limited impact, however

On Monday April 19 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case of an Ontario CA police officer who sued his employer for reading his explicit messages sent on a work pager. The case has implications for use of cell phones, blackberries, notebooks, laptops and even regular desktop computers at work or issued by employers to take home or on trips. The case may be limited to government employers or have implications for private employers.

The New York Times has a story April 20 on P A12, “Judges get personal over privacy of messages,” by Adam Liptak, link here.

Some justices expressed concerned that a monolithic “business use” only common with employers would force people to carry two mobile devices, especially on business trips through airports.

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN pointed out that the law does protect privacy of landline phone conversations at work, but not computer communications. Cell phones and blackberries would provide interesting questions.

More people depend on employers for mobile devices than many of us realize.

The case provides a curious contradiction (perhaps contraposition) to recent concerns expressed here about employer blogging policies, online reputation, and even insurance issues (as reported yesterday).

The case is Quon v. City of Ontario No. 08-1332. There is a related case Quon v. Arch Wireless, in which the Ninth Circuit had ruled in favor of the plaintiff, “Ninth Circuit Rules that Text Messages Stored by a Communications Provider are in Electronic Storage for Purposes of the Stored Communications Act; Providers Must Follow More Stringent Rules for Disclosure than for Other Types of Content”, link here

A blog called “Wright’s Legal Beagle” also discusses the case here.

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