The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the United States Supreme Court today to ensure that modern communications methods such as text messages retain the constitutional privacy protections applied to earlier technologies.
In an amicus brief in City of Ontario v. Quon, EFF sided with a public employee who was allowed personal use of his work pager but then discovered that his employer had secretly obtained his communication records from his wireless provider. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the city violated the Fourth Amendment, and the Supreme Court granted the city’s request to review that ruling.
“The Constitution fully safeguards the privacy of electronic communications sent over employer-provided equipment,” said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. “Text messages, like phone calls or letters, are protected from warrantless law enforcement surveillance, even if sent from the workplace or through an utside service provider.”
This case comes to the Supreme Court as Americans are adopting smart phones in record numbers, making texting and on-the-fly emailing a part of everyday life for millions of people. Most employers allow and encourage some use of workplace equipment for personal communications, instead of forcing employees to carry around multiple devices. In its amicus brief, EFF urged the court not to disturb longstanding Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless law enforcement access to these electronic communications.
“The privacy questions in this case turn on the application of settled legal principles in new technological contexts,” said Andrew Pincus of Mayer Brown LLP and the Yale Supreme Court Clinic, who worked with EFF on the amicus brief. “The court should proceed cautiously, in order to preserve constitutional protections for Americans’ most private communications.” “People are moving away from postal mail and landline phones to electronic and mobile communications, both at home and at the workplace,” added EFF’s Granick. “We should not be forced to leave our privacy behind.”
EFF was joined on this brief by the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), and Public Citizen.
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