updated 6/19/2008 10:55:04 AM ET 2008-06-19T14:55:04

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has made it more difficult for employers to legally access e-mails and text messages sent by their workers on company accounts.

Under Wednesday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, employers that contract an outside business to transmit text messages can't read them unless the worker agrees.

The ruling also lets employers access employee e-mails only if they are kept on an internal server.

The case originated from a lawsuit by Ontario police Sgt. Jeff Quon and three other officers. They sued after wireless provider Arch Wireless turned over to the police department transcripts of Quon's text messages to them in 2002. Police officials read them to determine whether department-issued pagers were being used solely for work purposes.

A lawyer for the city of Ontario and its police department says his clients probably will appeal Wednesday's ruling.

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