SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Ontario Police Department violated the privacy rights of a police officer by reading transcripts of his personal text messages – including sexually explicit ones – that he sent from his work-issued pager, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The department had reviewed the text messages archived in Arch Wireless’ computer network in order to determine how much Sgt. Jeff Quon owed the department for exceeding his 25,000-character allotment. Initially, officers could simply pay the department for overages. But the lieutenant who collected the money said he was tired of being a bill collector and decided to investigate Quon’s repeat overages.
An Arch Wireless employee said she handed the transcripts over to the city because it was the contact for Quon’s pager.
Quon, his wife and a few other recipients of Quon’s text messages sued the department and Arch Wireless for invasion of privacy and violations of the Stored Communications Act.
A three-judge panel said the department had ignored plenty of less-intrusive alternatives, such as asking Quon to redact his personal messages before reading the transcripts.
Reading the full transcripts was “excessively intrusive in light of the non-investigatory object of the search,” Judge Wardlaw wrote, “and because appellants had a reasonable expectation of privacy in those messages, the search violated their Fourth Amendment rights.”