US Supreme Court to hear "email privacy case" – could have implications in Canada


The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether privacy rights covered a worker’s personal text message on employer-owned equipment, hearing a case about a police officer who sent sexually explicit messages from his department-issued pager.

The justices agreed to review a ruling by a federal appeals court in California that reading the text messages sent on devices provided by the employer violated the worker’s privacy rights and amounted to an “unreasonable search” barred by the U.S. Constitution.

As computers, cell phones and text messages devices have becoming standard equipment in the workplace, most employers have told their workers their use of the devices can be monitored. The Supreme Court could decide how much privacy workers have when using such devices.

The decision could have implications in Canada as Canadian courts are increasingly being asked to review employers’ decisions to monitor the use of employee email and web use while at work or even away from work, when using employers equipment.

Generally, Canadian employees do not have a right to privacy when sending emails from company issued BlackBerry’s or over the servers.  This means that employers maintain the right to review emails and other electronic messages sent over their servers and, if warranted, impose discipline where employees comments and conduct crosses the line.

Daniel A. Lublin is a partner with the law firm Whitten & Lublin LLP which provides employers and employees with human resources advice and advocacy.  Daniel can be reached at [email protected] or through the firm’s website