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Supreme Court Says Gov't Employee Texts Not Private

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the where-to-draw-the-line dept.

Privacy 263

e9th writes "The Supreme Court, in a 9-0 ruling, has decided that government employers are entitled to examine all text messages sent with government-provided devices, even if the employee has agreed to pay for any excess message charges out of his own pocket. While the ruling only applies to government employees (at all levels), it may give private sector employees something to think about when using employer-provided devices."

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263 comments

Simple. (5, Informative)

Mark4ST (249650) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604824)

Couldn't an employee just use their own phone to send private texts?

Re:Simple. (5, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604890)

Now why would you go and do something silly like pay for your own phone service when you can get the taxpayers to pick up the tab instead?

Re:Simple. (4, Insightful)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605028)

Now why would you go and do something silly like pay for your own phone service when you can get the taxpayers to pick up the tab instead?

I know what you're saying, but there may be some good reasons. We have employer issued phones at our workplace with unlimited plans. Making personal calls or sending texts during non-work hours does nothing to change the final bill, so we've been told to use them for our own personal use as well. We're required to have the phones & be "on call." Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

Re:Simple. (2, Insightful)

DDLKermit007 (911046) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605096)

Which is totally ok. Thing is, people have to treat a cellphone like anything else their employer allows them to use outside of work. If you want to talk dirty to the girl down the hallway, your gona have to find another way to do it. Otherwise you can take the risk.

Re:Simple. (1)

ottothecow (600101) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605296)

When are we going to figure out something along the lines of dual-sim phones designed with this sort of use in mind?

I used to have a verizon blackberry from work with a slot for a sim card (since verizon decided using a different standard from the rest of the world was a good idea and now needs to include all the GSM bits to appease business travelers). It would have been much more useful to me if I could put in my personal AT&T sim card and have it just work. Similar to how a BB splits your inboxes, it could have split SMS boxes for both numbers and automatically know which number to use for outgoing calls based on a contact preference (personal contacts get the personal number, business get business, bonus points if it does some machine learning based on incoming calls).

Re:Simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605472)

Not quite that easy since the phone only has 1 antenna and so can't talk to 2 different towers on different frequencies at the same time. They could, however, allow you to switch back and forth when you want to, it would just look to the carrier like the number you weren't using at the time was turned off.

Re:Simple. (5, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605098)

We have employer issued phones at our workplace with unlimited plans. Making personal calls or sending texts during non-work hours does nothing to change the final bill, so we've been told to use them for our own personal use as well. We're required to have the phones & be "on call." Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

Technically your employer is supposed to figure out the percentage of business calls vs personal calls and either bill you the difference or include it on your W-2 as a taxable benefit. Few employers actually bother to do this but it is required by the US tax code.

As for "why" you would want to pay for one, I think the headline answers that question. If you value your privacy then you should be willing to pay to ensure it. If employers can monitor your text messages why not your voice conversations?

Re:Simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605340)

The IRS wants to dump the rule and so does Congress.

Re:Simple. (5, Informative)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605404)

Technically your employer is supposed to figure out the percentage of business calls vs personal calls and either bill you the difference or include it on your W-2 as a taxable benefit. Few employers actually bother to do this but it is required by the US tax code.

Actually, it's still under debate... the IRS has not issued a final ruling on inclusion of company-paid cell phone charges as taxable fringe benefits.

Companies are not required to itemize charges and bill and/or include as taxable fringe; they can instead use some flat percentage.

But in practice, the IRS doesn't pursue the cell phone issue much -- if there are a lot of other taxable fringe that is escaping tax, they may include it, but if that's your only questionable item, they'll let it go.

I'm not your tax accountant or tax lawyer, so don't take what I've written as sound advice. It's just my experience with dealing with the IRS on this issue for my past couple employers.

Re:Simple. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605118)

I'm in the exact same boat, but I've never considered giving up my personal phone, and the why seems obvious to me. I pay for a second phone so that my employer has no say in or knowledge of what I do with it. You obviously don't have to have your own phone, but you can't have it both ways. If you use your employers phone, it's their phone, not yours, and they'll do what they want when it comes to monitoring usage. It's not your phone, you have no right to complain about it.

Re:Simple. (4, Insightful)

rgviza (1303161) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605146)

So you can send private texts and calls that your employer isn't allowed to see.
So you can deal drugs with it.
So you can buy drugs with it.
So you can watch porn on it.
So you can make your own porn with it.
So you can sext your girlfriend and MMS pictures of your cock to her.
So you can text your best friend the lurid details of your latest sexual conquest.

I can think of lots of reasons someone would want a second phone not financed by their employer. Most of these reasons involve stuff you don't want your employer to know about or see.

If you are straight edged AND boring, there is no reason. If you like to live dangerously on the fringe or are sexually adventurous, get your own phone. It's a necessity if you regularly have unprotected textual intercourse.

Re:Simple. (4, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605184)

So you can text your best friend the lurid details of your latest sexual conquest.

If you can fit the lurid details of your latest sexual conquest into 160 characters then it probably wasn't all that impressive ;) Besides, everybody knows that those conversations need to happen over a pint of beer....

Re:Simple. (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605306)

I have a hard time thinking of a phone that won't split text messages, and at worst, MMS supports about ~1000 characters (on most phones)

Re:Simple. (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605266)

Well...if you were straight edge you could use your personal phone to listen to Minor Threat.

Re:Simple. (1)

spazdor (902907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605638)

I wouldn't want anyone knowing if I were listening to something like that. My employer least of all.

Re:Simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605644)

There's also the whole independence and number ownership thing.

I've had the same number for about a dozen years, I don't want to give up that number as many people know it.

I could transfer it to work, but then I have to be concerned with leaving my job while the number is in the midst of a two year contract at my employer and no longer having ownership of my number.

Re:Simple. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605192)

Now why would you go and do something silly like pay for your own phone service when you can get the taxpayers to pick up the tab instead?

I know what you're saying, but there may be some good reasons. We have employer issued phones at our workplace with unlimited plans. Making personal calls or sending texts during non-work hours does nothing to change the final bill, so we've been told to use them for our own personal use as well. We're required to have the phones & be "on call." Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

See, what you are missing is that the original poster just knows all government employees are lazy, time wasting bearucrats intent on sucking up as much taxpayer money while doing as little as possible in return. You are just trying to use facts to point out the stupidity of his assumptions; and trying to take money out of the poor corporations who would profit from all those employees having to spend money on personal cell phones, energy that won't be consumed by having to keep two phones charged, materials and accessories that won't get sold to support spurious phones, etc.

Its almost like you HATE America

Re:Simple. (4, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605220)

Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

Easy to answer: Use it all you want, but assume that your employer will see everything you do. If you want to do something without them knowing, then use your own device. It isn't YOURS. Go ahead and call mom, order that pizza, call a cab, use it for anything that you are fine with it being public, but nothing else.

My experience is that you are better off if you act like everything you do is completely public, be it on any phone, computer, device. Even with the best proxies and encryption, it still *almost* is. If you need to do something that requires no one knowing, then expect that you will have to take extraordinary steps. Simply texting on your company phone is NOT "extraordinary steps".

Re:Simple. (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605288)

True that. I think I'll go borrow an M109A6 Paladin from the national guard armory....i mean, fuck...it's already paid for.

Re:Simple. (0, Redundant)

apoc.famine (621563) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605508)

Shotgun!

Eeerrrr...I mean 'Gunner'!

Re:Simple. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605370)

Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

Because you want privacy.

Re:Simple. (1)

Scyber (539694) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605558)

A few reasons:

So when you leave the company or get fired you won't lose the phone # and have to tell everyone you know your new #? If you are fired hopefully you wrote down all of your personal numbers from your phone book before security takes it away.

So your employer doesn't have access to a record of every call you make. If someone higher up is looking for a reason to fire you, they may start looking at your call activity and suddenly that phone call to a friend that works at a competitor will get you in trouble.

Re:Simple. (2, Funny)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605570)

Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

One reason might be so your company doesn't have legal access to your texts asking your mom if you can have some friends over to play D&D this weekend.

Re:Simple. (1)

Local ID10T (790134) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605598)

I know what you're saying, but there may be some good reasons. We have employer issued phones at our workplace with unlimited plans. Making personal calls or sending texts during non-work hours does nothing to change the final bill, so we've been told to use them for our own personal use as well. We're required to have the phones & be "on call." Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

only if you don't want your employer to have access to the call log (who you spoke with and when) or to the log of the texts. If you aren't concerned about what your employer might find out, go ahead and use the free service they are providing. If you don't want them to know about it -don't use use their equipment.

Its just like any other use of company equipment. My typing this post on slashdot is being logged right now. If I thought that would be a problem for my employer to know about, I would not be doing it from my desk at work.

Re:Simple. (1)

Fujisawa Sensei (207127) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605608)

Now why would you go and do something silly like pay for your own phone service when you can get the taxpayers to pick up the tab instead?

I know what you're saying, but there may be some good reasons. We have employer issued phones at our workplace with unlimited plans. Making personal calls or sending texts during non-work hours does nothing to change the final bill, so we've been told to use them for our own personal use as well. We're required to have the phones & be "on call." Why would I want to pay for a second phone I don't need?

Because you don't want your boss to know exactly who you're calling or texting?

What happens when you leave the company and they don't let you take the number with you?

And yes I have a company provided cell, and I still pay for my own to keep my business my own.

Re:Simple(r) (1)

koinu (472851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605392)

Leave the work phone at the office and carry your own private outside. No bothering calls at home and the people at the company can analyze all your text messages on your office phone without any ideological problems. Classic win-win situation. :)

Re:Simple. (3, Insightful)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604994)

    That'd seem to make sense.

    When I was working for companies (oohh, I need a job), I carried my work phone and private phone. Personal calls and texts were on the personal phone. Work calls and texts were on the work phone.

    There was such a huge difference in the texts.

    On the work phone, about 1000 texts/day saying things were up, down, or 999 other bogus status messages. And people wondered why "emergency" texts were missed. Of course they were. After the first 10k status messages, you learn to tune out the beep, or mute 'em.

    On the personal phone, about 3 texts/month saying my friends network had problems. The remainder of the texts were the occasional "are you available", "yes" and "call me", being sent in both directions.

    I don't really want my employer having access to my texts, nor the list of people I talk to. My friends are none of their business. And for the sake of the business, personal calls on the personal phone don't cost the company anything. :) I burnt up enough minutes on the work phone from remote datacenters, sitting in on hour long conference calls to talk about what we were already doing. "Yup, we're here. We're doing it. We'll be done in a few hours if we don't have to sit in on yet another conference call."

   

Re:Simple. (1)

Clandestine_Blaze (1019274) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605186)

EXACTLY! I have a "work phone", which my work pays for and I only make work related calls with it. I have a personal phone, which I pay for, and I use to make personal calls with.

From the article:

"The transcripts showed that Quon had been exchanging sexually explicit messages with his wife, his girlfriend and another SWAT team member."

OUCH.

Next comes banning of personal devices (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605362)

Watch for the other shoe to drop. Once this precedent is firmly established in the public and private sectors, the only remaining step is to ban personal devices so there is no possible way to communicate that isn't subject to search, surveillance or other forms of monitoring. There are already workplaces that ban personal laptops from accessing the network, or ban phones with cameras (good luck finding such a device these days), quite often for good reason (any defense-related job, for example, or jobs that involve sensitive data like medical information).

Personally, I don't think such rulings should be allowed to stand unless the law clearly defines reasonable conditions under which personal communication not subject to unlimited surveillance are permitted. I'm cynical enough to think that this will never happen. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Re:Next comes banning of personal devices (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605516)

They make stickers for your camera issue.

And? (4, Insightful)

2obvious4u (871996) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604832)

The ruling was for devices provided by the government, did you expect anything less? If it was for your own personal phone, that would be different.

Re:And? (1)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604914)

Agree and with disposable phone in the 9$ range with 20$ card and txts at .10 each it seems they could use something other than the government provided phone.

Now how about a ruling that all government agencies have to keep copies of all texts and make them part of the public record to promote transparency in government. That would be news and something I would be interested in. lol

Re:And? (2, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604938)

I'm more worried about the fact that the wireless company kept a transcript of the text messages than I am about the fact that some municipal government kept a copy of them. What legitimate purpose is served by a wireless provider retaining copies of text messages that have been successfully delivered to the end user?

Re:And? (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604960)

What legitimate purpose is served by a wireless provider retaining copies of text messages that have been successfully delivered to the end user?

They're probably forced to by the government.

Re:And? (4, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605004)

No, the Government only compels them to keep the pen-register data, i.e: who you called/texted and when. I am unaware of any law or regulation that compels them to retain copies of the actual messages. If you have a citation for such a law in the United States I would be most interested in reading it.

Re:And? (1)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605420)

Who said the government needs to write a law to force them to do something?

Re:And? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605506)

You were probably also unaware of the government withholding contracts from telcos unless they participated in their little warrantless wiretapping venture back after 9/11, at least until Qwest refused to participate and got their contracts cancelled and their CEO sued.

It doesn't take laws or regulations to pull the strings of corporations, only money.

Re:And? (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605584)

No, I'm well aware of that particular issue. It cost Barack H. Obama my vote and my campaign contributions.

Re:And? (1)

butterflysrage (1066514) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605230)

why else? catching terrorists... got to catch em all!

Re:And? (3, Insightful)

Mitreya (579078) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604976)

The ruling was for devices provided by the government, did you expect anything less? If it was for your own personal phone, that would be different.

Exactly! Just don't use a government device for any private stuff and you'll be fine. It's not like all your communication has to go through it -- presumably just the work related things, which are not particlarly private. I don't care who reads my work emails/sms-es/etc as long as my personal phone is off limits.

Re:And? (2, Informative)

AsmCoder8088 (745645) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605164)

While you are correct that the best bet is to simply not use the department-issued device for personal texts, the lieutenant specifically stated that the text messages would not be audited. Then they changed their minds and started auditing them. He had a reasonable expectation of privacy, it would seem.

The oral argument at the Supreme Court hearing from both sides can be read here [supremecourt.gov]

Re:And? (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605566)

While you are correct that the best bet is to simply not use the department-issued device for personal texts, the lieutenant specifically stated that the text messages would not be audited.

My supervisor can promise anything at work, but that doesn't mean he had the authority to do so. Also policies can be changed by your employer at any time unless you had a contract with your employment or the change violates some law.

Re:And? (2, Insightful)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605174)

That might explain why it is a 9/0 ruling, which is rare. It would seem common sense that if you use any employer supplied device (phone, computer, whatever) that the employer has the right to view what traverses their network and devices. This case might have been about the government as an employer, but I would expect no less protection for the private sector. And yes, protection is the right word. If you start making threats to someone (as an example) using company property, they might could be held partially liable as their gear facilitated the communication. Even if that wasn't the case, IT IS NOT YOUR PHONE/COMPUTER, you shouldn't expect privacy.

Now, on your OWN device, at work, that is a different story. They can fire you if they want, for spending all day texting instead of working, but they don't get to see what you are doing without a subpoena. Seems fair enough, and common sense.

Re:And? (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605274)

And if you company wants to issue you a cell phone, you can always tell them "Thanks but no thanks, I only want to carry one phone. How about a monthly stipend to offset the cost of my personal phone?"

It's still your phone, your employer is just helping pay for their usage of it. Your privacy should remain intact. (IANAL etc.)

If they say no, carry two phones or find a better employer. Simple enough.

Gray areas (1)

KingSkippus (799657) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605018)

The problem is that sometimes there are gray areas.

Where I used to work, they provided us with BlackBerries. However, they also had a plan where you paid the company $15 per month, and you could use it as your personal phone as well. Unlimited minutes, unlimited data, it seemed like a pretty good deal. Even if they monitored text messages and such, it's not like my messages were racy or too terribly private.

Then they locked out Gmail. Oh, and they blocked MMS messages. And prevented me from installing apps on it.

At that point, I bought an iPhone. Yes, I'm paying a hell of a lot more than $15 per month for it, and I no longer get unlimited minutes. Still, my freedom to do whatever I want with the device and knowing that Big Brother isn't watching me* is worth the extra money.

*Well, at least one less Big Brother. Uncle Steve still wants to keep me safe from myself. :-/

Re:And? (1)

DaFallus (805248) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605126)

What if you own the phone but your employer pays for the service tied to the SIM card?

Re:And? (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605270)

It's whatever your employment agreement says.

Re:And? (1)

wolrahnaes (632574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605488)

IANAL, but that would probably mean they would have no rights to examine the device itself, but any records available through the telco would still be fair game.

All employees? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605162)

Such rule is nice in principle - gov employee goes basically to the highest level after all.

Yeah, yeah, "don't hold your breath..."

Re:And? (2, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605202)

The ruling was for devices provided by the government, did you expect anything less?

To their credit, enforcement of government regulations seems pretty hit and miss. The guy was on SWAT, so he may have been expecting this to go the way of so many investigations into police misconduct. And there may have been some revenge motives behind this rather than sound legal reasoning: he sued the city after "...transcripts showed that Quon had been exchanging sexually explicit messages with his wife, his girlfriend and another SWAT team member."

I'm guessing all three may have found out and been mad at him, and rather than accept the consequences of his philandering, he chose to blame the investigation.

Well, duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32604846)

Something you send on someone else's hardware isn't private.

Is anyone surprised? (4, Insightful)

sean.peters (568334) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604852)

Your employer having access to things you do with IT equipment they furnish is pretty much standard operating procedure, and has been for some time now. I'm having some trouble understanding how this even got to the Supreme Court. The fact that the government allowed them to use the devices for personal messaging doesn't mean that it gave up the right to see what they were doing with them.

Re:Is anyone surprised? (2, Insightful)

e2d2 (115622) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605064)

I think it actually had merit, but only because there is precedent with the phone. If you are an average government employee (not a classified position, let's exclude those for this argument), and you use their land line telephone to call home, are you entitled to privacy? It's a legit argument, but the supreme court ruled "use your own" and that's that.

Always seperate work and personal (5, Insightful)

alphax45 (675119) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604858)

My wife’s job wanted her to use her personal Blackberry for work emails and such. I told her that you always have to keep it separate because: - what if you leave? - what if we go over our data? Are they going to pay the overage? can we prove it was because of work stuff? - what if you accidently send work things to personal contacts and vice versa? It opens too many issues. If work wants you to have a device for work, they provide and pay for it and you use it ONLY for work. Simple.

Obvious, in hindsight (2, Insightful)

TiggertheMad (556308) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604964)

It seems like there is an interesting business opening here: Selling multiple contracts for a single device. It shouldn't be too hard to write some software that allows users to switch context on a device to separate work and personal stuff. Get to it, you money hungry corporate sharks!

Re:Obvious, in hindsight (1)

solafide (845228) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605356)

The Nokia e63 already has a mode-switch much like this.

Re:Obvious, in hindsight (2, Informative)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605374)

Too late! [wikipedia.org]

Something to think about? (4, Insightful)

TheGreatHegemon (956058) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604860)

it may give private sector employees something to think about when using employer-provided devices

Not really, I've always assumed nothing is private on employer provided devices, no matter who my employer.

Re:Something to think about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605022)

That depends on your country's culture. In the US employees are merely glorified slaves. Around here on the other hand you have some degree of privacy and employers for example are not allowed to monitor employees' private emails.

Re:Something to think about? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605086)

I live in the U.S. and my employer is, also, not allowed to monitor my private emails because my private emails are not done using my employer's computers.

Re:Something to think about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605338)

As long as you are not using their internet connection, their computer, or their email server/account you are safe. In this case they were using a company issued device, and therefore should have 0 expectation of privacy unless guaranteed in writing elsewhere (e.g. an Employment Handbook or HR policy).

If you send "private" emails using your work account you _are_ using your employers computers. (Their servers handle and process the mail and it is subject to whatever retention and audit policy they have.) I think we are agreeing on the point here, but I want to clarify because I've had employees in the past say they sent emails using their home pc and it is not subject to monitoring while they did it through a corporate account...Best to just have this all written anyway, this way nobody can say "I assumed this, or I thought that". One of the few times I think IT Policy really protects our asses.

Re:Something to think about? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605632)

I agree. When I use my corporate email account, I am speaking as a representative of my employer and I expect that they may monitor what I say. Considering that they can be held accountable in a court of law for what I say in an email from my corporate account, that only makes sense.

Re:Something to think about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605152)

And where exactly is "around here" for you? It's a big world, you know...

Re:Something to think about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605252)

Yes, glorified slaves making 6 figure salaries with excellent health benefits and a completely employment-at-will contract. Oh, the humanity!!

Moron.

Re:Something to think about? (2, Insightful)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605378)

Employers are never allowed to monitor employees' "private" emails. Which means their non-work accounts.

Seriously, how hard is it to sign up for a Hotmail or Yahoo account and keep your work life distinct from your private life?

Is anyone surprised by this? (1)

aes123 (1532617) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604882)

Anyone with an employer provided phone who thinks that there's anything private on that phone is living in a fantasy land. How this got to the SUPREME COURT is completely beyond me.

Sounds fair to me. (2, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604906)

SMS is broadcast over the air unencrypted. There should be no expectation of privacy.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604972)

SMS is broadcast over the air unencrypted.

-1 factually incorrect. All GSM transmissions are encrypted. CDMA transmissions may be encrypted but even without encryption are pretty hard to intercept -- they show up as noise unless you know the pseudo-noise sequences used to encode them.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605070)

Thanks. I was mistaken. That makes the issue more complicated.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (2, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605148)

Actually it really doesn't. Old fashioned cordless telephones were rarely encrypted but it was still a violation of Federal law to monitor them. It was also made illegal to sell scanners that were capable of tuning to the frequencies that they used.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (1)

Compholio (770966) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604992)

SMS is broadcast over the air unencrypted. There should be no expectation of privacy.

You mean that you have to have special equipment to receive the message if you're not the intended recipient? I guess that means there should be no expectation of privacy with postal mail either, since with special equipment you can easily read other people's mail.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (1)

wolrahnaes (632574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605600)

He was most likely thinking of pagers, which are unencrypted and require no special equipment to monitor. If you have a radio receiver which can tune the appropriate frequencies (many ham radios and scanners readily available at retail stores) and a computer you can decode any pager messages sent on towers you can "hear".

That said, how are you making a logical leap from something being broadcast unencrypted over the air to opening mail? The snail-mail equivalent would be if a postcard was mailed to everyone in a zip code with instructions on the front saying for only John Doe at 123 Main Street to flip it over and read the back. Any expectation of privacy when using standard radio communications in the clear is absurd.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (1)

Shoe Puppet (1557239) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605144)

Yet it's "protected" by the fact you need either special equipment or access to the phone provider's servers to access it, apart from the criminal intent. The expectation of privacy should be comparable to a standard letter.

Re:Sounds fair to me. (1)

butlerm (3112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605334)

I doubt SMS interception equipment is readily available to the general public, which means unauthorized third party interception, use, and disclosure is almost certainly illegal (at least in the United States) - cf. 18 USC 2511(2)(g).

Not that that would affect this case. The employer had implicit authorization. It also doesn't mean you shouldn't take the non-encryption into account when choosing what to send of course.

I wonder... (5, Interesting)

avatar4d (192234) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604908)

Would this also lead to your own personal device that an employer pays a portion of the bill to also give them rights to view your records? I bought my device and have an account in my name, but my employer reimburses a portion of the bill to me since I am on call every other week and get pages sent via SMS to the device.

Re:I wonder... (1)

tilandal (1004811) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605304)

Common sense would say no as you own the device and your employer is compensating you for using your equipment but common sense isn't as common as it sounds so I suspect it would take a Supreme Court decision to answer!

Re:I wonder... (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605320)

Would this also lead to your own personal device that an employer pays a portion of the bill to also give them rights to view your records?

It certainly gives them a foot in the door. Personally, I'd rather eat the expense myself than risk privacy intrusions from some of the companies I've worked for. Alternatively, one might get a separate prepaid phone for work use so that one's personal phone is off-limits.

Re:I wonder... (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605332)

Does the fact that your employer pays your salary mean they get to drive your car, live in your house, eat your food?

The fact that they designate a small portion of your salary as a phone stipend doesn't negate the fact that you own the device and can do with it what you please.

You ought to be perfectly free of employer's prying eyes, in the absence of a court order. (IANAL, etc.)

Your method is exactly what these government employees - or any employees for that matter - should have been doing in the first place.

Re:I wonder... (1)

rotide (1015173) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605384)

In this case I would assume that the device and service are _yours_ _alone_ unless you specifically signed away any rights to your privacy by accepting reimbursement.

If you never sign away your privacy then I would assume the default is that it is your phone, service and privacy. If it was work issued (like the article details) then work owns it regardless of what money you put into it.

Now I'm curious, what does the reimbursement form I use for work actually say.....

Re:I wonder... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605394)

I would assume only for the reimbursed portion. So if they pay for 150 text messages out of your 500, they own 150 of the 500.

I am in the same situation.

Credit Cards (0, Offtopic)

mikem01 (1835886) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604950)

There were some useful pointers which I will definitely bear in mind for use next time. Thanks for sharing! Credit Cards [woolwichcreditcards.com]

Valid ruling (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604980)

I am a big fan of privacy, but if you are a government employee using a governmen provided device to communicate then the government has the right to examine that communication, if only to discover whether or not it is is official business (which they pay for) or personal (which you pay for). In fact that was exactly how they discovered the data.

Not so simple (4, Informative)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 4 years ago | (#32604984)

My first reaction was like most here - it's an employer-provided device, so why would you expect privacy? However, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act says that while employers have the right to monitor employee's phone conversations, they must stop if/when they realize that the conversation is personal, not business.

http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs7-work.htm#2a [privacyrights.org]

So this is a mobile phone, not a landline, and it's texting not talking, which just complicates an already murky law.

Re:Not so simple (1)

N0Man74 (1620447) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605446)

Good point. I don't understand why people make the distinction between them being government employees or not. I don't think it should matter. Both employees in the public and private sector really should be able to expect the same level (or lack) of privacy from their employer.

The suit against the service provider succeeded?? (1)

dissipative_struct (312023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605002)

From the article:

"The court in December refused to hear a related appeal from Arch Wireless, now a unit of USA Mobility Inc., the nation’s largest provider of paging services. The 9th Circuit court said the company violated a federal electronic-privacy law by providing the transcript without seeking Quon’s permission".

So the Supreme Court ruled that the department had the legal authority to review the pager messages, but the 9th Circuit says the service provider violated a federal law in turning over the records without Quon's permission?

Re:The suit against the service provider succeeded (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605360)

Both can happen, one way would be for the search to be legit based on an employer exception but since the turnover did not confirm who they were giving it too his 4th amendment rights may have been violated. Not saying that is what happened just that these things are not necessarily in contradiction.

Re:The suit against the service provider succeeded (1)

butlerm (3112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605614)

So the Supreme Court ruled that the department had the legal authority to review the pager messages, but the 9th Circuit says the service provider violated a federal law in turning over the records without Quon's permission?

The legal authority to review them if they have a copy of them, yes. The department cannot force the provider to violate the law, however.

Pro tip: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605078)

It's the company that sets the company policy for company equipment. This is no different.

Confused (1)

jmactacular (1755734) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605082)

I'm confused by what the EFF just twittered. They seem to think this is a positive ruling, which is at odds with this slashdot post. "Today's S. Ct. decision in Quon v Ontario at http://eff.org/r.4mq [eff.org] (pdf) assumes w/o deciding that 4th am protects privacy of txt msgs (yay!)"

Re:Confused (4, Insightful)

mr_matticus (928346) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605284)

They seem to think this is a positive ruling, which is at odds with this slashdot post.

It's not at odds. It only seems that way:

"Today's S. Ct. decision in Quon v Ontario at http://eff.org/r.4mq [eff.org] (pdf) assumes w/o deciding that 4th am protects privacy of txt msgs (yay!)"

That's completely accurate. The opinion holds that it is assumed but not decided that Quon had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the text messages (see e.g. III-A [p. 9]).

A REOP doesn't mean you can't be searched. It means that searches have to comply with the Fourth Amendment. This search did comply, given the workplace exception, pp. 15-16, and therefore the city is entitled to conduct such audits of the equipment it pays for.

Thanks to politicians like this... (4, Informative)

mayko (1630637) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605238)

After someone like Kwame Kilpatrick (former mayor of Detroit) exchanged 14,000 text messages [wikipedia.org] with his chief of staff (both married to other people), most of which were related to their sexual affair with one another and others which were about illegally firing another government employee and I believe a bribery scandal (this has been local news here for a while), I'm not surprised they are finally doing this.

What I'd really like to know, is how the hell someone could send 14k text messages between September/October 2002 and April/May 2003. All the illegal and corrupt stuff aside... If that time period is accurate that means they were exchanging over 50 text messages a day... what the fuck.

Re:Thanks to politicians like this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605476)

Really? 50 a day is like 10 an hour for half a workday. In fifteen minutes, I can send almost twenty text messages WHILE working.

I often go into 200-350 a day. Though I guess that's what happens when you maintain GSM equipment.

Simple solution (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605316)

Use your own device and have your employer re-imburse you for a portion of the bill.

Good (1)

davmoo (63521) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605330)

This is exactly how it should be. And it should extend to private employers as well as government. We live in an age where companies can be, and routinely are, punished for employees using company equipment for sexual harassment, etc. If I can be held responsible for what my employees do with my equipment, then I'm going to monitor its usage and I don't give a damn what employees think of it. Period.

If you want privacy, use your own phone.

kdawson is using timothy's account (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605336)

That's the only conclusion I can come to based on the absolute horribleness of the summary. The fact is, these devices are owned by the employer in question. So going from the principle that employers can already monitor telephone conversations on equipment they own and monitor email communications on equipment they own, there is absolutely no legal justification for them to be prevented from monitoring texts on equipment they own.

Want privacy from your employer? Go spend $40 a month and get your own cell phone.

There's No App For That? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32605468)

The sad thing is you can't even get an iPhone app that ROT-13's your text messages for you. You know, cuz Adobe owns ROT-13.

Forbid personal use... (1)

N0Man74 (1620447) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605490)

I think the policy should be that employers (public or private) should only be allowed to review phone records used an employer issued phone if the policy is that it can't be used for personal use.

If they explicitly allow (or encourage) use of these company resources for personal use, then they should be restricted from viewing personal use.

Encouraging and allowing personal use, and then being able to view it is dangerous, can be easily abused, and is like setting up traps for people. In the end, everyone will probably say or do something stupid on their phones in their personal use, so if you want to rake any random person over the coals you can likely find *something* that is at least somewhat objectionable on any random phone search.

Since citizens are technically the employer. . . (0, Troll)

kimvette (919543) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605518)

Since citizens are technically the employer. . .

I would like to review ALL of Obama's texts. Now.

Re:Since citizens are technically the employer. . (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 4 years ago | (#32605596)

Jay-Z has Obama on the text.

monkeys like crack too. it's comparable to tv... (0)

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