Sexy Texting May Further Test 4th Amendment Protections

Nate Anderson at Ars describes a case that could test some interesting 4th Amendment issues around use of a newer technology. The suit is being pressed by a SWAT Sgt. Jeff Quon against the city of Ontario, CA. At issue is whether the city had any right to read through the texts the cop sent with his city issued pager. City officials were prompted to pull the records in the face of repeated overages, despite the fact that Quon paid all the fees. The records revealed a mass of intimate messages sent and received by Quon, far outstripping an average of about three work related messages a day.

The issue will be heavily informed by the fact that Quon was using a device that was owned by the city. Traditionally this has been much more clear cut then monitoring of privately owned devices. Anderson has a good point in his conclusion, one that has little to do with the rampant criticism of the seeming technology illiteracy exhibited by some of the judges during oral arguments.

If the norm is moving further towards workers making consistent, partial personal use of corporate assets, does that beg at least some minimal expectation of privacy? If the judges answer even a bit in the affirmative, that could significantly reshape the contours of privacy in the workspace.