sextext.jpgLet’s face it, most employees use their company-issued pagers, phones, laptops for personal reasons sometimes. It’s just the way life is now — the lines between work life and personal life are becoming more and more blurred as workers seem to be working round the clock these days.

But if you do use these devices for a message or text you want to remain private you’re out of luck. That’s the message the U.S. Supreme Court sent today when the justices unanimously ruled your boss can snoop, even if your manager tells you it’s okay to use such devices for personal reasons.

The case the high court ruled on involved a horny cop, his wife and his mistress.

Jeff Quon, a California SWAT sergeant, was given a pager from his employer, the Ontario Police Department. He was later found to have used the device not only for work but also for pleasure, often sending sexually explicit text messages to his wife and his mistress.

Quon’s employer found out about his personal use of the pager after an investigation looking into excessive texting at the department.

Quon cried foul and took the department to court. His case hinged on the fact that his commanding officer told him he could use the device for personal matters if he just paid for the overage charges. The sergeant took this arrangement as an expectation of privacy; and a lower court found in his favor.

In Quon’s case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the officer had a reasonable expectation of privacy because he paid for the overusage charges on his pager, and the police department had lax procedures for auditing employee messages.

Even though Quon’s case is about public employees, and the lower court’s decision was based on the Fourth Amendment — which guards against unreasonable search and seizure by the government — private employees were also expected to be affected if the Supreme Court did not uphold the lower court’s ruling, Ann Hodges, professor of law at the University of Richmond, told me in April.

That means this ruling could impact U.S. workers from all walks of life who are typing away dirty, or embarrassing messages on a company-issued laptop or PDA right now.

The court found that Quon’s messages were not private and could be viewed by department officials.

This from the Chicago Tribune:

A public employee has at most a “limited” expectation of privacy when using a text pager supplied by a police department, the justices said.

“Because the search (by the police chief) was motivated by a legitimate work-related purpose, and because it was not excessive in scope, the search was reasonable,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

Michael McGill, a lawyer for Quon, called the ruling a setback for employees everywhere.

“It is a very bad opinion. They are chipping away at the constitutional rights of employees. It means privacy rights are very limited,” he said.

Kent Ashland, a lawyer for the city of Ontario, said the ruling vindicated the actions of the police chief.

“This says what they did was reasonable in light of the circumstances,” he said.

Bottom line: think before you text, or just hand that little technological bundle of joy back to your boss if you can’t control yourself.

[Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon]