Ninth Circuit Applies Fourth Amendment to Text Messages at Work
By Anna Volftsun — Edited by Evie Breithaupt
Quon v. Arch Wireless Operating Company, Inc.
Ninth Circuit, June 18, 2008, No. 07-55282
On June 18, 2008, the Ninth Circuit held that the City of Ontario, California violated the Fourth Amendment when Ontario Police Department officials viewed text messages sent by a department employee. The court also held that Arch Wireless, the city’s service provider, had violated the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2701-2711, when it disclosed messages to individuals who were not the addressees or intended recipients.
In late 2001, Sergeant Jeff Quon received a pager from his employer, the Ontario Police Department. The pagers’ wireless text-messaging service provider, Arch Wireless, had stipulated that the city was required to pay overage charges for text messages exceeding a set character limit. Quon paid the overage fee several times without further inquiry into the content of the messages until August 2002, when the Ontario police Chief Scharf moved to obtain transcripts of Quon’s text messages from a support specialist at Arch Wireless.
At least three department employees, including Quon’s immediate supervisor, reviewed the transcripts and read many of Quon’s personal messages, some of which were sexually explicit. Quon and several recipients of the messages brought suit in the District Court of Central California. They appealed the district court’s holding, arguing that Arch Wireless had violated the SCA. Quon also argued that the city violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as well as his rights under the California Constitution.