In late April the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case involving a California police officer, his agency-issued pager and sexually charged messages transmitted between the officer and three others. Numerous factions had their eye on this particular case because of the legal questions it raised regarding the SWAT team member’s reasonable expectation of privacy on a city-owned device and public access to government communications, among others.
As of press time, the Supreme Court’s decision on the case was not available. However, the predicament at heart of the situation got me thinking about how much technology has evolved since the days of the pager and how much of our personal information is floating around the electronic world.
In terms of technology, this case is old. I haven’t seen a pager in years and most folks now have smartphones capable of accessing e-mail and the Internet, as well as sending picture messages, all of which were rare capabilities in 2002 when Sgt. Jeff Quon of the Ontario PD sent the sexually explicit texts to his estranged wife, girlfriend and another officer at the department.
Where it may have once been more convenient to use work-issued cell phones and e-mail for dual purpose communications, I consider that old reasoning. The problem that Quon faced in 2002 is much easier to solve today. Officers can now set up their own e-mail accounts for free and many have electronics like cell phones for private use in addition to work-issued devices. They can utilize the privacy features available on social networking sites that they’d prefer stay personal.
With the avenues of electronic interaction available now, it’s all the more important to keep a vigilant watch on the information that you’d rather not share publicly.
Pagers are old news, but electronic discretion is in vogue now more than ever.