Supreme Court to Consider Workers' Online Privacy

December 14, 2009 ( – The U.S. Supreme Court said it will determine how much privacy workers can expect when they send text messages or e-mails from employer accounts.

The issue was brought up in a lawsuit in which Ontario, California city police Sergeant Jeff Quon and three other officers sued the city and text messaging service USA Mobility Wireless Inc. after wireless provider Arch Wireless turned over to the police department transcripts of Quon’s text messages to the other officers. Police officials said they read the messages to determine whether department-issued pagers were being used solely for work purposes.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that employers that contract an outside business to transmit text messages cannot read them unless the worker agrees (see Ruling Limits Employers’ Right to Monitor Electronic Communications), and that employers can access employee emails only if they are kept on an internal server. The city and USA Mobility appealed the ruling.

While the justices turned down the appeal, they agreed to hear arguments in the case in the Spring to decide on the privacy issue, according to the Associated Press.