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Supreme Court to Consider Privacy of On-The-Job Texts

After a group of police officers in Ontario, California discovered that their boss was reading texts they sent on city-provided pagers, they felt violated and took the case to court. Now, the highest court in the land is ready to weigh in, and the results could have far-reaching implications in offices across the country.

As the LA Times reports, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from the California city, which was successfully sued by Sgt. Jeff Quon and three other officers, all of whom claimed that their right to privacy had been violated when their boss read some of their sexually explicit texts (CNN reports that there was an "informal policy" of allowing officers to use work phones, as long as employees paid extra charges out of pocket). The question the Court will have to answer is whether or not the police chief violated the officers' 4th Amendment rights, which protect civilians against "unreasonable searches" undertaken by the government. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled last year in favor of the officers, saying that they had a "reasonable expectation of privacy" that the chief violated. The next Supreme Court ruling on the case, scheduled for spring, could have repercussions across all workplaces; although the 4th Amendment technically applies only to the public sector, many judges use higher courts' privacy rulings as a compass in deciding private sector cases, too.

As the Times points out, many court rulings on privacy limits in the workplace pertain to legislation written with wiretapping and other forms of surveillance in mind. In an age where most forms of communication leave an electronic paper trail, it's not hard for employers to play Big Brother if they want. And, ultimately, none of the four officers were fired or punished for the texts. Still, the larger prospect of setting a hard boundary that both parties can respect is appealing and ideal. We just think actually arriving at one will prove difficult -- if not impossible. [From: The Los Angeles Times and CNN.com]

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