Supreme Court To Review Text Message Case

According to an article in the Washington Post, the United States Supreme Court has decided to review a case that raises the issue of am employer’s ability to monitor text messages sent by employees. The case, Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Co, arose from a personnel matter involving police in the California city of Ontario. Three police officers and another employee there complained that the city illegally reviewed text messages that they’d sent and received. Some were sexually explicit (no Tiger jokes please). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the employees had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the text messages. Apparently, the Supreme Court wants to weigh in. It probably does not come as a big shock that employers can monitor employee use of company computer systems. But one tricky issue in the Quon case is that text messages are different than e-mail messages. Unlike e-mail, text messages never pass through a corporate communications network; always are stored with a third party provider; and often are transmitted via personal cell phones. So it’s not exactly like the employer is monitoring its own equipment. And the employer’s right to monitor, under applicable federal statutes, is tied to the fact that it owns the equipment. So, the statute by its terms probably doesn’t apply to text messages. Indeed, Arch Wireless, the text messaging service, was a party to the proceedings because it turned its records over to the employer. Regardless of what the Supreme Court does with the case, smart employers are dealing with the issue in computer use policies that recognize that text message monitoring needs to be addressed separately from e-mail.