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Supreme Court Says Gov't Employee Texts Not Private 263

Posted by timothy
from the where-to-draw-the-line dept.
e9th writes "The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 ruling, has decided that government employers are entitled to examine all text messages sent with government-provided devices, even if the employee has agreed to pay for any excess message charges out of his own pocket. While the ruling only applies to government employees (at all levels), it may give private sector employees something to think about when using employer-provided devices."
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Supreme Court Says Gov't Employee Texts Not Private

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  • And? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 2obvious4u (871996) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:17PM (#32604832)
    The ruling was for devices provided by the government, did you expect anything less? If it was for your own personal phone, that would be different.
  • by sean.peters (568334) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:18PM (#32604852) Homepage
    Your employer having access to things you do with IT equipment they furnish is pretty much standard operating procedure, and has been for some time now. I'm having some trouble understanding how this even got to the Supreme Court. The fact that the government allowed them to use the devices for personal messaging doesn't mean that it gave up the right to see what they were doing with them.
  • by alphax45 (675119) <kyle.alfred@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:19PM (#32604858)
    My wife’s job wanted her to use her personal Blackberry for work emails and such. I told her that you always have to keep it separate because: - what if you leave? - what if we go over our data? Are they going to pay the overage? can we prove it was because of work stuff? - what if you accidently send work things to personal contacts and vice versa? It opens too many issues. If work wants you to have a device for work, they provide and pay for it and you use it ONLY for work. Simple.
  • by TheGreatHegemon (956058) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:19PM (#32604860)

    it may give private sector employees something to think about when using employer-provided devices

    Not really, I've always assumed nothing is private on employer provided devices, no matter who my employer.

  • Re:Simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:21PM (#32604890) Journal

    Now why would you go and do something silly like pay for your own phone service when you can get the taxpayers to pick up the tab instead?

  • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:26PM (#32604964) Homepage Journal
    It seems like there is an interesting business opening here: Selling multiple contracts for a single device. It shouldn't be too hard to write some software that allows users to switch context on a device to separate work and personal stuff. Get to it, you money hungry corporate sharks!
  • Re:And? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya.gmail@com> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:27PM (#32604976)
    The ruling was for devices provided by the government, did you expect anything less? If it was for your own personal phone, that would be different.

    Exactly! Just don't use a government device for any private stuff and you'll be fine. It's not like all your communication has to go through it -- presumably just the work related things, which are not particlarly private. I don't care who reads my work emails/sms-es/etc as long as my personal phone is off limits.

  • Re:Simple. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <(moc.ehtymswj) (ta) (ehtymswj)> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:28PM (#32604994) Homepage Journal

        That'd seem to make sense.

        When I was working for companies (oohh, I need a job), I carried my work phone and private phone. Personal calls and texts were on the personal phone. Work calls and texts were on the work phone.

        There was such a huge difference in the texts.

        On the work phone, about 1000 texts/day saying things were up, down, or 999 other bogus status messages. And people wondered why "emergency" texts were missed. Of course they were. After the first 10k status messages, you learn to tune out the beep, or mute 'em.

        On the personal phone, about 3 texts/month saying my friends network had problems. The remainder of the texts were the occasional "are you available", "yes" and "call me", being sent in both directions.

        I don't really want my employer having access to my texts, nor the list of people I talk to. My friends are none of their business. And for the sake of the business, personal calls on the personal phone don't cost the company anything. :) I burnt up enough minutes on the work phone from remote datacenters, sitting in on hour long conference calls to talk about what we were already doing. "Yup, we're here. We're doing it. We'll be done in a few hours if we don't have to sit in on yet another conference call."

       

  • Re:Simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:30PM (#32605028) Journal

    Now why would you go and do something silly like pay for your own phone service when you can get the taxpayers to pick up the tab instead?

    I know what you're saying, but there may be some good reasons. We have employer issued phones at our workplace with unlimited plans. Making personal calls or sending texts during non-work hours does nothing to change the final bill, so we've been told to use them for our own personal use as well. We're required to have the phones & be "on call." Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

  • by e2d2 (115622) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:33PM (#32605064)

    I think it actually had merit, but only because there is precedent with the phone. If you are an average government employee (not a classified position, let's exclude those for this argument), and you use their land line telephone to call home, are you entitled to privacy? It's a legit argument, but the supreme court ruled "use your own" and that's that.

  • Re:Simple. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DDLKermit007 (911046) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:35PM (#32605096)
    Which is totally ok. Thing is, people have to treat a cellphone like anything else their employer allows them to use outside of work. If you want to talk dirty to the girl down the hallway, your gona have to find another way to do it. Otherwise you can take the risk.
  • Re:Simple. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:36PM (#32605118)

    I'm in the exact same boat, but I've never considered giving up my personal phone, and the why seems obvious to me. I pay for a second phone so that my employer has no say in or knowledge of what I do with it. You obviously don't have to have your own phone, but you can't have it both ways. If you use your employers phone, it's their phone, not yours, and they'll do what they want when it comes to monitoring usage. It's not your phone, you have no right to complain about it.

  • Re:Simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rgviza (1303161) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:39PM (#32605146)

    So you can send private texts and calls that your employer isn't allowed to see.
    So you can deal drugs with it.
    So you can buy drugs with it.
    So you can watch porn on it.
    So you can make your own porn with it.
    So you can sext your girlfriend and MMS pictures of your cock to her.
    So you can text your best friend the lurid details of your latest sexual conquest.

    I can think of lots of reasons someone would want a second phone not financed by their employer. Most of these reasons involve stuff you don't want your employer to know about or see.

    If you are straight edged AND boring, there is no reason. If you like to live dangerously on the fringe or are sexually adventurous, get your own phone. It's a necessity if you regularly have unprotected textual intercourse.

  • Re:And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:41PM (#32605174) Journal

    That might explain why it is a 9/0 ruling, which is rare. It would seem common sense that if you use any employer supplied device (phone, computer, whatever) that the employer has the right to view what traverses their network and devices. This case might have been about the government as an employer, but I would expect no less protection for the private sector. And yes, protection is the right word. If you start making threats to someone (as an example) using company property, they might could be held partially liable as their gear facilitated the communication. Even if that wasn't the case, IT IS NOT YOUR PHONE/COMPUTER, you shouldn't expect privacy.

    Now, on your OWN device, at work, that is a different story. They can fire you if they want, for spending all day texting instead of working, but they don't get to see what you are doing without a subpoena. Seems fair enough, and common sense.

  • Re:And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:45PM (#32605202)

    The ruling was for devices provided by the government, did you expect anything less?

    To their credit, enforcement of government regulations seems pretty hit and miss. The guy was on SWAT, so he may have been expecting this to go the way of so many investigations into police misconduct. And there may have been some revenge motives behind this rather than sound legal reasoning: he sued the city after "...transcripts showed that Quon had been exchanging sexually explicit messages with his wife, his girlfriend and another SWAT team member."

    I'm guessing all three may have found out and been mad at him, and rather than accept the consequences of his philandering, he chose to blame the investigation.

  • Re:Simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pharmboy (216950) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:46PM (#32605220) Journal

    Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

    Easy to answer: Use it all you want, but assume that your employer will see everything you do. If you want to do something without them knowing, then use your own device. It isn't YOURS. Go ahead and call mom, order that pizza, call a cab, use it for anything that you are fine with it being public, but nothing else.

    My experience is that you are better off if you act like everything you do is completely public, be it on any phone, computer, device. Even with the best proxies and encryption, it still *almost* is. If you need to do something that requires no one knowing, then expect that you will have to take extraordinary steps. Simply texting on your company phone is NOT "extraordinary steps".

  • Re:Confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:50PM (#32605284)

    They seem to think this is a positive ruling, which is at odds with this slashdot post.

    It's not at odds. It only seems that way:

    "Today's S. Ct. decision in Quon v Ontario at http://eff.org/r.4mq [eff.org] (pdf) assumes w/o deciding that 4th am protects privacy of txt msgs (yay!)"

    That's completely accurate. The opinion holds that it is assumed but not decided that Quon had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text messages (see e.g. III-A [p. 9]).

    A REOP doesn't mean you can't be searched. It means that searches have to comply with the Fourth Amendment. This search did comply, given the workplace exception, pp. 15-16, and therefore the city is entitled to conduct such audits of the equipment it pays for.

  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettwNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @02:57PM (#32605378) Journal

    Employers are never allowed to monitor employees' "private" emails. Which means their non-work accounts.

    Seriously, how hard is it to sign up for a Hotmail or Yahoo account and keep your work life distinct from your private life?

  • Re:Simple. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bakkster (1529253) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `nam.retskkaB'> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:23PM (#32605658)

    MMS will also fit the actual nude photos...

  • are you sure? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chirs (87576) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:37PM (#32605816)

    My employer claims the right to monitor anything I do with my work computer or on the work network...which is fine, it is their equipment after all.

    Presumably that would include me accessing my private Hotmail/Yahoo account from the work computer.

  • by JediLow (831100) * on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:53PM (#32606014)
    Put in a FIOA request...
  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @03:55PM (#32606038)

    You could try working during work.

  • Re:And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @04:32PM (#32606394) Homepage Journal

    " IT IS NOT YOUR PHONE/COMPUTER, you shouldn't expect privacy."

    Why not?

  • Re:Simple. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid@@@gmail...com> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @04:35PM (#32606426) Homepage Journal
    These are the important details

    No, no. He mentioned the ass to mouth. Everything you mentioned is vanilla and foregone. It's like asking what swimsuits the SI models were wearing: nobody gives a shit.
  • Re:Simple. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Miseph (979059) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @04:36PM (#32606438) Journal

    Or, moving away from doing things you perhaps ought not do... what if you're talking to prospective employers? What if you're going through issues in your personal life which are messy or acrimonious (ie. divorce) and simply can't let them to overlap with your job? What if your employer views all other employment, regardless of nature, as a conflict of interest and will act vindictively toward employees who take them on? What if you just don't want your employer to know what you do on your own time, because it's none of their business?

    I can think of all sorts of reasons I wouldn't want my employer watching what I do off the clock even if what I'm doing is completely valid.

    I can also see why the person footing the bill would have a right to see what it's being used for. Especially in this case, where the employer is, ultimately, ME. I don't want government employees doing inappropriate things with a phone I PAID FOR, and if they don't like it, they can either find a new line of work or pay for it themselves.

  • by MistrBlank (1183469) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @04:52PM (#32606616)

    You get a work phone, it's work's property. Don't do shit with it you don't want your employer to see.

    If you work in public sector, don't do or say things on it you don't want the public to know.

  • Re:Simple. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kizeh (71312) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @05:12PM (#32606852)

    The ability to have multiple lines on a single SIM has existed for years, and such SIMs, operator support and phone support is fairly commonplace in the rest of the world for exactly this kind of issue -- have one line for work, one for personal calls, but only carry one phone.

  • Re:And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <(moc.ehtymswj) (ta) (ehtymswj)> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @08:45PM (#32608644) Homepage Journal

        The same reason as if you came to my house and used my computer to check your email. It's my computer, I can do anything I want with it, including incremental screen shots, keystroke logging, and packet sniffing. When you leave, it's all fair game.

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