5th Circuit: SCA does not apply to data stored on a cell phone

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that federal law didn’t protect text messages and pictures stored on a Texas woman’s personal phone from the preying eyes of her employers.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the Stored Communications Act (SCA), a federal law aimed at guarding against intrusions on individual privacy, doesn’t apply to data stored on a cell phone.

The case was titled Garcia v. City of San Laredo, (full text here)and involved a former police dispatcher in Laredo, Texas, who was fired after her superiors reviewed text messages and images on her phone that revealed an extramarital affair.  The ruling held that personal cell phones are not “facilities” under text of the SCA.

As we will discuss in class, to be liable under the SCA, a defendant must have gained unauthorized access to a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided and must thereby have accessed electronic communications while held in electronic storage.  The court looked closely at persuasive authority from the 11th circuit, notably United States v. Steiger, which held that a hacker’s access of an individual’s hard drive was beyond the reach of the SCA.  The court quoted from Steiger, stating that the SCA does not “appear to apply to the source’s hacking into [a] computer to download images and identifying information stored on his hard-drive.”

We will talk more about this case and the SCA during this year, but Garcia represents a continued path of litigation for the SCA in other courts that have reached the same conclusion.


One thought on “5th Circuit: SCA does not apply to data stored on a cell phone

  1. If the Fifth Circuit is correct, then the SCA offers no protection whatsoever. What was the purpose of that law to begin with?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s