Supreme Court to consider texting-in-workplace privacy case

Police officers "sexting" messages at issue in groundbreaking legal drama

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to consider what privacy rights, if any, a government worker can expect to enjoy when sending text messages via a taxpayer-issued device.

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The Washington Post this morning has details:

The case the court accepted Monday involves public employees, but a broadly written decision could hold a blueprint for private-workplace rules in a world in which communication via computers, e-mail and text messages plays a very large role.

A federal appeals court in California decided that a police officer in the city of Ontario had a right to privacy regarding the texts he sent on his department-issued pager, even though his chief discovered that some of them were sexually explicit messages to his girlfriend. That court said the chief's decision to read the messages without a suspicion of wrongdoing on the part of the officer violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

The ruling, by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, was the first of its kind, and the judges acknowledged that the "recently minted standard of electronic communication via e-mails, text messages, and other means opens a new frontier in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that has been little explored."

The case is complex and will certainly spark enormous public interest ... and debate.

My first-cup-of-coffee take? Anyone who expects privacy when using employer-issued equipment is making a grave error in judgment, at best. And anyone who expects the law to cover for that error in judgment is putting far too much faith in the law.

As to what the Supreme Court should do here? Seems to me that a bright line is order and that would mean no "sexting" on the company dime. Moreover, I'd bet my last nickel that this Supreme Court rules along those lines.

(Update: My thoughts on how "privacy rights" in this case could backfire.)

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