June 22, 2010 – A recent California court case between a police officer and the Ontario Police Department has set a new precedent in the case of employee privacy with digital communications.
Jeff Quon’s OPD-issued pager was the center of the controversy after its usage was investigated as part of an audit of the OPD’s monthly data quotas. The OPD was performing the audit to determine if they were giving their officers an adequate amount of text allowances per month, as some were exceeding the current quota.
Quon was one such officer, having exceeded the limit two months in a row and paying for the overage out of pocket. His pager texts were then investigated, revealing a large number of personal texts – some sexually explicit.
The city and OPD claim to have had a legitimate concern that their officers were possibly paying out of pocket for work-related texts, and that the OPD just wasn’t allowing for enough data for officers with a high-volume of communications.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Reviewing the transcripts was reasonable because it was an efficient and expedient way to determine whether Quon’s overages were the result of work-related messaging or personal use.”
Many companies have policies in their employee handbooks detailing the use of company equipment for personal communications. The general rule for most businesses is that any communications produced on and transmitted by company equipment should not be considered private.
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