Privacy on Trial in Supreme Court 'Sexting' Case

The Supreme Court today is set to hear arguments surrounding a case involving so-called ’sexting’ on a company-owned pager, of which the decision they make could have broad implications for employee privacy rights in the workplace.

California SWAT Sergeant Jeff Quon was given a pager by his employer, the Ontario, Calif. police department. While the device was meant for work use, Quon was found to have sent sexually-charged text messages to both his wife and his mistress.

Apparently, Quon sent so many texts that it triggered overage charges and an investigation into excessive texting within the department. While Quon did pay for the overage charges out of his own pocket, he complained that he thought the message content was confidential.

He and his mistress — a dispatcher — sued the department and the paging company over privacy violations, as well as another police officer for an unrelated matter. A lower court decided in favor of the employees in 2008, but the defendants appealed.

Now the Supreme Court will hear the case, which could vastly affect employee rights. As technology becomes more prevalent allowing employees to work from anywhere, work-provided electronics are seeing more and more personal use. While many companies provide clear-cut policies on personal use, some do not.

Some go as far as to use the information they find by peering onto their employee’s devices as grounds for termination. But in recent court cases, the courts have sided with the employees generally, making it hard for employers to use damaging information they find.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, I believe the responsibility lies on the employee. You should know your company’s policies on proper use of company-provided equipment. If that means no personal use, then for the sake of your job security, you buy your own.

However, if there is no policy — or lax polices as in the case of the Ontario Police Department — use your head. Sending a multitude of sexually explicit text messages is definitely not. Don’t be so damn stupid!

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