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Feds Dodge a Supreme Privacy Shot

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By Allan Holmes June 18, 2010

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Privacy groups are wiping their brows and saying, "Phew," after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling on how much leeway governments have in searching their employees' private electronic messages. The Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy rights group in Washington, liked the court's decision, even though it found that a California police department's search of an officer's text messages was constitutional. From a CDT press release:

The case could have had very far-reaching implications because of the way in which work-related and personal communications have become so interwoven, in both the government and the private sectors, as employers expect workers to be always available by cell phone, text and email. The Court recognized this trend, but declined to set any new rules.

Nextgov put it this way:

The Supreme Court ruled a search of a police officer's personal text messages on a government-issued pager was constitutional. But it avoided tackling a thornier and broader question: What level of privacy can public employees expect on work-provided communications devices?

The answer to that question is still pretty much, CDT officials think. Jim Dempsey, CDT vice president of public policy:

This ended up as a workplace privacy case for government employees. The message to government employers is that the courts will continue to scrutinize employers' actions for reasonableness, so supervisors have to be careful.

Hat Tip: Tech Daily Dose

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