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Supreme Court Takes Texting Privacy Case 184

TaggartAleslayer writes with this excerpt from the NYTimes: "The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether a police department violated the constitutional privacy rights of an employee when it inspected personal text messages sent and received on a government pager. The case opens 'a new frontier in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence,' according to a three-judge panel of an appeals court that ruled in favor of the employee, a police sergeant on the Ontario, Calif., SWAT team. ... Members of the department's SWAT team were given pagers and told they were responsible for charges in excess of 25,000 characters a month. Under an informal policy adopted by a police lieutenant, those who paid the excess charges themselves would not have their messages inspected. The lieutenant eventually changed his mind and ordered transcripts of messages sent and received by Sgt. Jeff Quon. In one month in 2002, only 57 of more than 456 of those messages were related to official business. According to the trial judge, many of the messages 'were, to say the least, sexually explicit in nature.'"
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Supreme Court Takes Texting Privacy Case

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  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:06PM (#30436946)

    How is this any different than employers reading your e-mail? There's already statements from the Supreme Court that "While police, and even administrative enforcement personnel, conduct searches for the primary purpose of obtaining evidence for use in criminal or other enforcement proceedings, employers most frequently need to enter the offices and desks of their employees for legitimate work-related reasons wholly unrelated to illegal conduct."

    It sounds like in this case the employer had a policy regarding 25000 characters per month and they were enforcing a policy. Arch(Pagenet) didn't have much in the way of message security anyway so this seems that
    the employer could get access quite easily to the messages, especially if they were the account holder.

    Since Text Messages and E-Mails are handled by third parties, wouldn't this also apply to the recent ruling that you don't have a right to privacy?


  • Re:Paid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:29PM (#30437226)

    to go OT...

    There was a case a few years ago where the cops lied to someone under interrogation to get them to confess, by telling them that $actual_real_named_person has identified them as the culprit (which they hadn't done). She wound up dead 24 hours later. Apparently, she didn't have to be offered protection because she hadn't actually provided the police with the evidence.

  • by Xaositecte ( 897197 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:31PM (#30437238) Journal

    I think You're the first person in this thread who's made a good analogy, and a logical arguement.

    I'd mod you up if I weren't already involved in the discussion elsewhere.

    I still think the search should hold up as "not a violation of fourth amendment rights" - but it's a good arguement.

  • Re:Paid (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:33PM (#30437260)

    If there was no formal written policy declaring no lookie - it's claimed a person had a personal informal policy and this is not the department's policy - then SOL, no matter what the Lt. may have said.

    so much for justice, eh? It is a reasonable assumption that what a superior says to you is the rule, especially in a rank and file organization like a police dept. the court acted in defense of those who were duped by the Lt's 'informalness.' Being told I can do something only to have my ass fucked for it retroactively by someone else is wrong no matter how you put it.

    The fact the SCOTUS took this up is a concern for businesses and sys admins. I would have thought it obvious there's no freedom of speech issues here.

    Only for those who like to change the rules whenever it suits their whims. In this case, using legal whimsy to go after someone because of his private sexual affairs borders on persecution. Keep the morality brigades in the history books along with the puritans please...

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:33PM (#30437264)

    A police department asking a telecom company to turn over transcripts of messages is a somewhat different position, though. Does a telecom company really treat those requests exactly as any other customer asking for transcripts of messages? Or does it treat it like a police request for transcripts?

  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @07:37PM (#30437302) Homepage Journal

    I heard this on NPR this morning and the fact that they were using the phrase "grey area" astounded me.

    Look, it's simple: if your employer owns a device, and allows you to use it, you are not to ever use it for personal reasons, nor should you ever expect even the slightest amount of privacy for communications using the device. Even (and probably especially) if they give you permission for personal use. That goes for cell phones, pagers, computers, slide rules, everything. That means you do not log into personal Facebook, Google, or Hotmail at work. You do not use the company phone to call home. If you do any of these, you've 1) probably violated the terms of your employment and 2) have given the company/government permission to peer into all personal communications made with your employer's equipment.

    You have explicit rights (in most cases) to privacy and use of the property that you actually own. That's it, the line is drawn there. I can't believe there is any controversy over this.

  • by John Whitley ( 6067 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @08:41PM (#30438192) Homepage

    You have explicit rights (in most cases) to privacy and use of the property that you actually own. That's it, the line is drawn there. I can't believe there is any controversy over this.

    Of course there's controversy! In case you haven't noticed, a vast majority of our "personal" data has wandered out onto networks and servers that none of us control. This has been a gradual process going on for years, but the very attributes of modern networked computer systems make the real-world impact of these changes much greater now. This has radically changed the landscape under which the 4th amendment (and a lot of other law) was originally conceived. I'd say that review of the applicability of constitutional protections in modern contexts could be viewed as one of the most important roles of the SCOTUS.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Monday December 14, 2009 @09:45PM (#30438972) Journal
    Cops are outside of the average slashdoters monkeysphere [].
  • Re:Paid (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @02:58AM (#30441186)

    Except that they said they wouldn't inspect the pagers if he paid the excess bills. And he paid the excess bills.

    So while I support them having the right, they went back on their word.

    You could call it "going back on their word" and make it sound morally wrong. Or you could call it "changing the policy" and it sounds much better. Personally I think they should have announced it as a policy change going forward, but in any workplace you will find this type of "promise" being broken over and over.
    To be perfectly blunt, no matter what your boss says, company property should be used for company business, period. If you're dumb enough to use it for other things then you're a moron. The end result of that logic being... most of the cops are morons, but that's not exactly news.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor