Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ontario v. Quon Decided

As described in this article from Computer World, the Supreme Court has issued its decision in City of Ontario v. Quon. A quick recap of the facts: the city of Ontario California issued Jeff Quon (a SWAT team member) a pager. Quon exceeds his text message allotment on the pager and is audited. The audit reveals the Quon has overwhelmingly used the pager for personal text messages. Quon is subsequently disciplined.

The decision was totally unsurprising - the police department was allowed to audit messages sent during work hours on the pager it provided. What was surprising, or at least, was something of a relief, was that the Court reached the expected result in a way that leaves a nascent right to employee privacy in electronic communications basically unscathed. Indeed, the Court seemed to go out of its way to avoid upsetting precedent like Stengart v. Loving Care, which had found that employees have at least some expectation of privacy in personal emails, even if sent on company computers. For example on page 14 of its decision, the Supreme Court specifically distinguished personal emails such as were at issue in Stengart:
OPD’s audit of messages on Quon’s employer-provided pager was not nearly as intrusive as a search of his personal e-mail account or pager, or a wiretap on his home phone line, would have been.

All in all, I think Ontario v. Quon was a good decision. Indeed, given the issues involved, and the potential for damage, it was probably the best that the Court could have done.

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