Friday, June 18, 2010

Supreme Court Punts in Quon v. City of Ontario

The Supreme Court unanimously punted in Quon, making you wonder why they bothered to take it up. (Although Scalia strongly suggested he would have be willing to issue a definitive ruling on the privacy of pager messages).

The court frankly announced they were unwilling to rule on Quon's expectation of privacy because they felt such a ruling, even from the Supreme Court, would be both unlikely to get it exactly right and would be outpaced by future changes in attitudes towards technology and its use, by employees, employers, and the legal community.

"Rapid changes in the dynamics of communication and information transmission are evident not just in the technology itself but in what society accepts as proper behavior. At present, it is uncertain how workplace norms,and the law’s treatment of them, will evolve."

As to the actual ruling, the court found it was reasonable to review the text messages because all the city was tying to do was find out why they guy kept going over the character limit, they only read a few texts sent during work hours, and the pager was owned by the city and he was a police officer.

The court also ruled the Ninth Circuit was wrong to require the city to use the least intrusive means to inquire about the character limit, which may be the most important thing to come out of the Quon ruling.

Petitioners’ warrantless review of Quon’s pager transcript was reasonable under the O’Connor plurality’s approach because it was motivated by a legitimate work-related purpose, and because it was not excessive in scope. See 480 U. S., at 726.

Reviewing the transcripts was an efficient and expedient way to determine whether either of these factors caused [ Quon to go over the character limit ]