The chief justice appeared sympathetic to the police officer in the case, Sgt. Jeff Quon of the Ontario Police Department’s SWAT team, who had received mixed guidance from his superiors about the status of messages sent on his pager. The messages included communications to and from his wife and his mistress.
The department’s written policy allowed “light personal communications” but cautioned employees that they “should have no expectation of privacy.” Under an informal policy adopted by a police lieutenant, however, those who paid for messages over a monthly maximum would not have their records inspected.
Chief Justice Roberts said the combination of the two policies might be enough to give Sergeant Quon a reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. “I think if I pay for it,” the chief justice said, “it’s mine and not the employer’s.”
Neal K. Katyal, a deputy solicitor general, disagreed, saying that a low-level employee had no power to change a general policy. “The computer help desk cannot supplant the chief’s desk,” Mr. Katyal said.