U.S. Supreme Court Overturns 9th Circuit in Privacy Case

The United States Supreme Court released its judgment in City Of Ontario, California, et al. v. Quon et al. today, deciding that when police officer Quon’s employers examined his pager records, they did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights, because although he had a reasonable expectation of privacy, as the jury determined the employer’s examination was for the legitimate, work-related purpose of deciding whether the current character limit in the contract with the provider was adequate.

An interesting excerpt from the judgment of the court, delivered by Kennedy J., which I have not had the time to digest:

The Court must proceed with care when considering the whole concept of privacy expectations in communications made on electronic equipment owned by a government employer. The judiciary risks error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment implications of emerging technology before its role in society has become clear. . . Prudence coun­sels caution before the facts in the instant case are used to establish far-reaching premises that define the existence, and extent, of privacy expectations enjoyed by employees when using employer-provided communication devices.

We’ve adverted to Quon a couple of times before on Slaw.

It was a busy day, so to speak, at the U.S. Supreme Court: four further judgments were released along with Quon. The Tarlton Library News Supreme Court Update provides a handy summary of them all.


  1. This case was turned into something it was not. The issue here isn’t whether a government entity can look at private texts, it is who owns the device your employer has provided for you to better do your job. Mr. Quon had no right to expect privacy on the pager provided by his employer, government or not. The only way he might have legitimately expected privacy might have been for the employer to specifically stat that it was ok to use the pager for personal use. In no other case should he have assumed the pages were private.