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The United States Supreme Court ruled that public employers like police departments have the right to search text messages on company-issued devices as long as there’s a legitimate work purpose for doing so.

The issue came to the Supreme Court after a California police officer sued because he thought his Fourth Amendment rights were violated after an audit of his cell phone communications exposed an affair he was having with another officer’s wife. The officer was told he can use the device for light personal communication but the city audited the device to determine how often the handset was used for work and personal matters.

The Supreme Court rules that the department had the authority to do this because the city “had a legitimate interest in ensuring that employees were not being forced to pay out of their own pockets for work-related expenses, or on the other hand that the city was not paying for extensive personal communications.” The Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent for all public organizations but it doesn’t apply to private companies yet.

So, the takeaway is that you shouldn’t expect much privacy on a work-issued device if you work for a governmental agency. This makes secret texting apps like TigerText more appealing, I think. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

Cellphone and text message communications are so pervasive that some persons may consider them to be essential means or necessary instruments for self-expression, even self-identification. On the other hand, the ubiquity of those devices has made them generally affordable, so one could counter that employees who need cellphones or similar devices for personal matters can purchase and pay for their own.

Don’t start freaking out and thinking that the Supreme Court rules will always lean toward the employer. Justice Kennedy was concerned about ruling on such a fast-moving topic like mobile tech, as he also wrote, “the court must proceed with care when considering the whole concept of privacy expectations in communications made on electronic equipment owned by a government employer.”