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The Fourth Amendment and Text Messaging Using Government Issued Pagers


In City of Ontario v. Quon, 130 S.Ct.___(June 17, 2010), one of the most important Fourth Amendment decisions of the United States Supreme Court last term, was technically not a criminal case. Officer Quon was a SWAT Officer working in the Ontario Police Department where he was issued a pager that could send text messages. Although light personal use was authorized, Departmental rules strictly prohibited sexually explicit text messages.

However, Officer Quon sent sexually explicit text messages to his wife and his mistress using the government pager. The Department reviewed transcripts and disciplined the Officer for his misconduct. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the City holding that Quon did have some reasonable expectation of privacy but that the Government's conduct was reasonable in obtaining and reviewing the transcripts of the text messages under the circumstances.

This case opens the door to many new issues involving the use of technology, the expectation of privacy in the government workplace, and the protections for third parties communicating with government employees that we will see the Court addressing in the years to come.

Scott Hughes is a criminal defense lawyer in Newport Beach, California practicing in State and Federal Court.

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