Fifth Circuit Holds Data On Personal Cell Phone Not Protected By Stored Communications Act

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On December 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the Stored Communications Act (SCA) does not apply to data stored in a personal cell phone and affirmed a district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants. Garcia v. City of Laredo, Texas, No. 11-41118, 2012 WL 6176479 (5th Cir. Dec. 12, 2012). In this case, after being terminated from her employment based on evidence downloaded by her employer from her cell phone, a former police dispatcher sued the City of Laredo for violating the SCA by accessing the contents of her cell phone without permission. The appeals court agreed with the district court that the cell phone data was not protected by the SCA. Consistent with decisions by the Eleventh Circuit and several district courts that the SCA does not apply to data stored on a personal computer, the court reasoned that an individual’s cell phone is analogous to an individual’s computer hard drive – it only enables, and does not provide an electronic communication service. Therefore, the court held, the contents of the device are outside the scope of the “facilities” covered by the SCA. The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the City of Laredo.