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Monday, August 2, 2010

Public Employees’ Right to Privacy in Their Electronic Communications: City of Ontario v. Quon in the Supreme Court

Charles Doyle
Senior Specialist in American Public Law

In City of Ontario v. Quon, the Supreme Court held that officials had acted reasonably when they reviewed transcripts of messages sent to and from Sergeant Quon's city-issued pager in order to determine whether service limits on the pager's use should be increased. The Court assumed, without deciding, that Quon had a reasonable expectation of privacy for Fourth Amendment purposes, but found that the search of the transcripts was reasonable.

In O'Connor v. Ortega, the Court had earlier split over the question of what test should be used to assess the reasonableness of a search of a public employee's work space. A plurality favored one test (work-related purpose for a search not excessively intrusive in scope); Justice Scalia another (search that would be considered reasonable in a private-employer context). In Quon, the Court declined to resolve the issue, but concluded that the search at issue was reasonable under either test.

Date of Report: July 28, 2010
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: R41344
Price: $29.95

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