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Thursday, December 20, 2012

City Access to Employee's Text Messages Does Not Violate Stored Communications Act

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a municipality's access to and dowloading of text messages and images from a police dispatcher's cell phone did not violate the federal Stored Communications Act.  Garcia v. City of Laredo.  The dispatcher had filed suit against the City after she was terminated for violation of police department rules and regulations because of the nature of the images and text messages retrieved from her cell phone. The district court had dismissed the case, and she appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

Congress passed the Stored Communications Act (SCA) in 1986 as part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to protect potential intrusions on individual privacy that were not addressed by the Fourth Amendment.  The SCA prohibits accessing without authorization any "facility" that provides electronic communication services in order to obtain access to an electronic communication in electronic storage.  The dispatcher had claimed that the City's access to her private cell phone violated the SCA.  The City countered that the SCA does not apply to data stored in a personal cell phone.  The Fifth Circuit agreed with the City.  First, the intent of the SCA is to apply to telephone companies, Internet or e-mail service providers, and bulletin board services.  Second, the Court found that a personal cell phone is more like a home computer, and courts had previously held that access to a home computer was not covered by the SCA. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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