Supreme Court Holds That a Government Employer’s Search of an Employee’s Messages on a Work-Related Pager Was Reasonable and Not a Violation of the Fourth Amendment
By Andrew Segna – Edited by Helen He
Ontario v. Quon, No. 08-1332 (U.S. Jun. 17, 2010)
The United States Supreme Court reversed a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that held that the Petitioner City of Ontario’s (“Ontario”) search of the Respondent Jeff Quon’s text messages was unreasonable and, therefore, a violation of Quan’s reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.
The Supreme Court held that the search administered by the Petitioner was reasonable and did not violate the Respondent’s Fourth Amendment rights regarding government employers. To reach this conclusion, Justice Kennedy assumed that Quon did have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Under the standards outlined by the plurality and Justice Scalia’s concurrence in O’Connor v. Ortega, the Supreme Court held that the legitimacy of the City’s reasoning behind the search and the nonexcessive measures utilized demonstrated reasonableness. In so holding, Justice Kennedy recognized this decision’s potential to determine the larger question surrounding employees’ expectation of privacy with regards to government employers and the rapid growth of information and communication technology today. Kennedy mentioned the changing privacy expectations of employees and arguments for and against increased privacy but asserted that he wanted to avoid the volatile and far-reaching consequence of addressing such an issue. Therefore, he concluded that there was a reasonable expectation of privacy in this case in order to narrow the holding.
The New York Times has an overview of the Supreme Court’s decision. SCOTUSBlog analyzed the majority opinion and Justice Scalia’s concurrence in the case and their implications for the question of privacy in the realm of technology. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, who filed an amicus brief in favor of a narrow holding, elaborated upon its support for and concerns about the holding. (more…)