Are Text Messages Sent From Your Work Phone Private?

How would you feel if your boss received a copy of every text message you sent from your work-issued cell phone? It might make you think twice before hitting that send button. It's an issue with such huge implications that the Supreme Court recently announced it will hear a case on the topic.

It stems from a group of police officers in Ontario, California who sent some sexually charged texts that were then read by their boss without their knowledge. The employees sued the department on the grounds of unreasonable search and seizure, saying they believed what happened on their phone stayed on their phones.

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The city said not so fast - and pointed out its electronic communications policy, which said it "reserves the right to monitor and log all network activity including e-mail and Internet use, with or without notice." The case went to court, and an initial ruling sided with the officers. The judge said they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their texts, and were led to believe by their supervisor that their phones could also be used for personal reasons.

Interesting, because at most jobs I've had it's pretty clear that whatever you do on your company issued equipment is fair game for prying corporate eyes. Many of us have grown accustom to assuming that our email, web surfing and phone calls can be tapped, logged and monitored - and rarely find out if this actually happens.

The big issue here is our increasing mobility and ever-expanding electronic communications options. A precedent set by the Supreme Court in this case will impact employers and employees across the nation.

Already, there are precedents for other forms of workplace communications. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has some good information on what is and isn't fair game.

When it comes to phone calls, employers are generally allowed to listen in for performance and quality control, but they're supposed to stop if they realize it's a personal call. That's assuming you can make personal calls on the company's dime. If your workplace specifically prohibits personal calls, they can listen to their hearts' content.

Employers are also generally free to watch what you're doing on your computer - this includes the sites you're surfing, the keys you're pressing and even the amount of time you're sitting idle.

Email and voicemail are also generally not private, and companies keep a record of these items in most cases long after they're deleted.

For now, sending and receiving texts still puts you in murky privacy waters - a ruling is expected in the Supreme Court case by June.

Next: Beware! 10 Ways Your Boss Spies On You >>

Ed Orum


Ed is a journalist who has worked for some of the largest mediaorganizations in the U.S.His career has taken him to places big andsmall across the nation. With experience at various employers, Ed'scareer has run the gamut - he's been hired, been the one doing thehiring, quit and, most recently, laid off for the first time.Thankfully, Ed has never been fired, although many years ago he oncecame close while working part-time at a pizza place - turns out it wasa misunderstanding.

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omigod! I think we should have our own space! I would never do that! It's like stalking me! :(

January 22 2010 at 1:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When you are an employee and have a boss you have to follow their rules and regulations exactly. If they don't want you to be able to send private text messages you have a problem. A few years ago I decided that kind of life wasn't for me. A home business had a lot of appeal to me but I had no idea which one to choose. I know a lot of them are scams or MLM schemes to mostly enrich others. I found an amazing program on a blog at this web site ( ) that gave me all the training I needed so that I could learn the skills required to be successful.. I couldn't be happier. I'm making a very nice income, I get to enjoy my family more often. And nobody is ever going to tell me what I have to do or who I have to work with again. :)

December 15 2009 at 1:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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