In its first case on whether employees have any right of privacy in the text messages they send on company devices, the Supreme Court unanimously found that even if there is one, employers can read the contents when they have a reasonable need to do so.
"Cell phone and text message communications are so pervasive that some persons may consider them to be essential means or necessary instruments for self-expression, even self-identification," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the court.
"On the other hand, the ubiquity of those devices has made them generally affordable, so one could counter that employees who need cell phones for similar devices for personal matters can purchase and pay for their own," he said.
The case came from Ontario, Calif., where a member of the SWAT team used a city-provided texting pager for both business and personal reasons. To see whether the excess charges his texting was producing were based on personal or business reasons, the police department audited his texting and found he was sending sexually explicit messages to a mistress. He sued, claiming the audit violated his privacy. But today's ruling unanimously said the city had a reasonable purpose for checking into why his texting was going over the normal limit, incurring additional fees.