Can Your Employer Read Your Personal Email After You Are No Longer Employed There?

from the questions-for-the-courts dept

While we already know that plenty of companies have systems in place to monitor your corporate email, what about your personal email accounts? And, just to make it more interesting, what about your personal email accounts after you are no longer employed at the firm? That's what's at stake in a new lawsuit, filed by a guy who was fired from a company, and later learned that they were reading his personal Yahoo email -- including messages he sent to his lawyer about responding to the firing.

Apparently, he left a computer at the office logged in to his Yahoo account, and that made it easy for the company to read his email -- and the company claims that since it's on a company computer, it's fair game. It's not exactly clear how he found out they were reading his email, however. Also, the company claims that the reason they looked at his email was because after getting fired, he used a computer (in plain view of other employees) to send himself various confidential company info. Even if that's true, it's not clear that the company should still be able to read emails in his personal account.


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    PaulT (profile), Jun 27th, 2008 @ 7:46am

    Security?

    Wow, that company's security policy sucks... Let's see: a fired employee is still allowed to access confidential information rather than being immediately escorted off premises. According to the article, he was also allowed back on premises to use another computer). A fired employee's computer login account is left active on an internet connected link, apparently logged in for days after said employee was fired.

    Sounds to me like they were asking for their information to be compromised.

     

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      Peed Off, Jul 17th, 2008 @ 11:08am

      Re: Security?

      Paul - Read it again. From what the article states, when the person left the company, their login information was still on the corporate computer, so anyone could come over to that computer, and access this persons PERSONAL email account. Because the emails are stored on a web server, NOT on the corporate property, NO COMPANY should be accessing anyones personal email !!! If so, companies will be in violation of privacy. The company defends their position by stating that this person used their personal email account to send corporate information. Because it is a defensive posture, I do not buy it.

      If the company cannot not prove their claim to be true, then there is a breach of privacy and that person who has been fired (perhaps the company downsized) can claim suit against said company for damages. It is equivalent as if you left your personal cell phone on the company desk, a coleague comes over and then checks your messages. Big problem !!!

      Now, lets reverse this scenario - if said person came over to their desk, sees a coleagues corporate email account open on their desk, and reads it without coleagues permission, what would happen next to said employee who did this ? What if the colleage who left their email open were a CEO, CIO, or CFO ? Would said coleague tell their peirs what heppened, or would they give their verison of it ?

      What if coleague left their personal yahoo/hotmail open on employees desk and employee reads it ? What happens then ?

       

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    some old guy, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 7:53am

    First question is the only one necessary

    Why would you EVER use an email account that is not yours personally for personal email? It is NOT YOURS. Especially when you leave there, ITS STILL NOT YOURS.

    You use corporate email accounts for corporate use, and ONLY for corporate use. Use your own damn email account for private use.

     

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      some old guy, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 7:55am

      Re: First question is the only one necessary

      blah... nevermind... I need to pay attention when I read.

       

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      oldhick, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 10:11am

      Re: First question is the only one necessary

      Did you read the article? He was using his personal Yahoo account.

       

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      Matt, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 7:51pm

      Re: First question is the only one necessary

      RTFA.

      It was his Yahoo account. Not his corpmail account.

       

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      Simple, Mar 30th, 2013 @ 7:19am

      Re: First question is the only one necessary

      Yahoo is a private email not corp. just because you know I keep my house key under front mat doesn't give you the right to go in and look around

       

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    Benjamin Wright, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 7:56am

    Privacy disclaimer

    Existing la may give employers incentive to broadcast multiple, repetitive privacy disclaimers, i.e., statements that employees have no privacy with respect to anything they do on company equipment. What do you think? --Ben http://hack-igations.blogspot.com/2008/06/employee-imtexte-mailvoicecomputerinter.html

     

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    some old guy, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 7:59am

    Actually on topic

    ok, now that I've actually read the real post instead of the imaginary one in my head that didn't actually exist...

    I'd say that company is looking at a world of hurt coming their way. If they suspected that he was stealing company secrets, then they should have lawyered up and subpoenaed his yahoo email. Just because its easy doesn't mean it's legal.

    IF nothing else, they should be facing "difficulties" in hiring and retention practices as a result of their actions.

     

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    matt, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:09am

    Yes and No?

    My opinion would be, if he was, during work hours, using the company PC and network, then the content of the emails he viewed and sent on his Yahoo account are fair game. After all, it's not uncommon for companies to have screen recording software running to capture everything on your screen (which would include when you open Yahoo and send email).

    But I would add that if, after he was fired, they logged into his Yahoo account themselves and dug around to see what they could find, then that crosses the line of acceptable and legal behavior.

    It's one thing to read the contents of what HE was transferring over THEIR equipment, but quite another for them to log in as the employee to view material that WAS NOT transferred over their equipment.

     

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      Paul, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:30am

      Re: Yes and No?

      Am I the only one that thinks its a load of crap that people think its ok to cut off a person from the rest of the world because they're working? If you're not allowed any form of private communication whatsoever, that's essentially what you're going to get. Companies should treat their employees like human beings, not resources.

       

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    discojohnson, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:19am

    actually

    this is essentially hacking, and a criminal offense. so the person that actually did it can go to jail (and possibly their boss(es)), and the company can be sued for a) telling the person to do it, b) allowing the person to do it, c) actually doing it or a combination thereof.

     

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    Skippy T. Mut, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:20am

    This is why...

    ...I have my own Exchange server with certificate based authentication and a 5 minute idle time auto log out. If he was dumb enough to leave his password stored on their computer and then also not smart enough to change his password after leaving then he deserves whatever happens. Don't get me wrong, I think the company needs to take a long hard look at its ethics and privacy policies, but the guy is just as much to blame as the company here. If you ask me I say its a wash!

     

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    flesh99, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:20am

    It's a pretty gray area

    Another question is how it was possible to read Mr. Sidell’s Yahoo e-mail messages. In his complaint, he said that when he returned to his office after he was fired, he may not have signed out of his Yahoo account. A feature of the account could have allowed anyone using his computer to access his e-mail messages for up to two weeks.


    It looks like he might not have taken measures to secure his account properly. While it seems everyone is upset with the company for reading his email it remains, quite possibly, that the guy is a moron who didn't logout, or possibly even chose an option to keep himself logged in.

    I am not sure I like the employer reading this guy's email but if he was a dumbass and left himself logged in then it's his own damn fault and I don't see punishing the employer for his stupidity to be frank.

    This is going to be an interesting case to watch.

     

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      discojohnson, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:45am

      Re: It's a pretty gray area

      making available isn't a green light to snoop. it's different if he left his web browser open and put a sign that said "free" next to it. however, it took more effort than just sitting down and turning on a monitor to get at the information. similar to folks that leave stuff on their webserver. if they do nothing to protect it, well it's free range (despite what many lawyers tend to think). but this guy did--he closed the web browser so someone had to go out of their way to get at the email.

      it has to do with ownership. the company owns the equipment, but they don't own the information. they own the code someone programs, but they don't own his ideas. company owns the concrete, not the abstract. they "own" the cookie stored on the harddrive, they don't own the right to unlawfully access the information with the cookie. (warning: oblig. car analogy) I leave my keys on the ground (fall out of my pocket or otherwise) it's still illegal for someone to drive off in my car, or to even open up the door and smell my air freshener.

       

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        Tzarus, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:04pm

        Re: Re: It's a pretty gray area

        Yes having access does not imply authorization to actually access. So while the company owns the cookie, it is illegal to use it without permission.

        If he took company information the company needs to let legal authorities gather the information. Now they have A) committed a crime in trying to gather evidence B) by proving they have access to the account, they potentially tampered with that evidence allowing the ex-employee to imply that the company planted the information into his account.

         

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    Overcast, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:25am

    Well, I dunno - it's unethical and not right - but if he left the 'cookie' on their machine - wouldn't that be the company's property too?

     

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      Paul, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:33am

      Re:

      Personally, I'd assume the presence of a cookie doesn't make it authorized access. Their access to his email was never authorized. Therefore, they accessed an unauthorized computer. Illegal.

       

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    Yes Yes, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:30am

    Answer is Yes

    Yes

     

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    JT, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:32am

    Moron

    He left a computer logged on to his Yahoo, that's his own damn fault. He doesn't sound like a guy with very much common sense and I hope he loses his case.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:36am

      Re: Moron

      Making it easy for someone else to do what may be illegal doesn't mean you should lose. If a store doesn't have surveillance and all that etc, it doesn't make it any less illegal to steal. If a person leaves their door wide open, it doesn't imply its not longer illegal to enter without permission. We all know common sense isn't so common. Just because you think the guy got what he deserved doesn't mean it was legal.

       

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    Tim, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:34am

    Retard

    I'm not saying that what the company had done was right, but the former employee leaving himself logged into his personal e-mail is just retarded, AND logging into your personal e-mail when you have already been fired and coming back for whatever reason use a company computer. Yes the company may not have been right to look at it but it sure was easy to look at it when he "gives" them his password.

     

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    Robert, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:36am

    Mail is Mail

    I think the company is wrong in reading his email personally. It is not addressed to the employer. Same as them going to his house and reading his snail mail in the mail box that he opened and didn't have time to put it in the house. I also agree that it's kinda his own fault for not logging out of his yahoo account. He was one click away from avoiding this. I will be watching this case also.

     

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    Chris Brenton, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:36am

    More black and white than gray

    There's already a precedence for this. See:
    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techpolicy/2008-06-19-privacy-work-communications_N.htm?csp= 34

    In short, a federal court has rules that employers can not access employee e-mail when it is stored off-site. Even when the organization in question is paying for the resource. If this was the guy's personal Yahoo e-mail account, they went way over the line.

     

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      ehrichweiss, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:50am

      Re: More black and white than gray

      Glad you dug up that precedent, I was sure there had already been a case like this in the past.

       

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    WarrenG, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:43am

    This is dangerous ground indeed. What if he had not left his Yahoo account logged in, but they were able to recover the password from monitoring software they had used before he was fired? Would they still have the right to access his account? Their rationalization for accessing his account is like a car thief saying "But they left their keys in the car". It's still illegal. A company does have the right to monitor an employees usage, but ONLY at the time of the actual use.

     

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    Brian S, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:45am

    I doub't the company is being honest

    This is just a guess but it seems more reasonable that the company did something like install a key logger BEFORE some time before they fired him.
    Then after he left they used the information from the logger to read his Yahoo email.
    When things got nasty they tried to put a cover up in place.

     

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      ehrichweiss, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:52am

      Re: I doub't the company is being honest

      I was thinking that exact same thing. If the guy was smart he'd subpoena data on all the computers he used as well as search all their financial document to see if they had purchased a keylogger. One or the other will turn up nastiness and merely hearing that will make them want to settle quickly and quietly.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:51am

    Hmm, reminds me of the old proverb:
    NOTHING you do on a work computer at work is private!!!
    Do not use company resources for personal use.

     

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    Edward D, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:55am

    I work in a large Dow 30 company and it still amazes me what people in management think they can just do. There is a reason every major corporation has a legal department. All it takes is a simple phone call there to verify what you are doing is legal. If the people in this case did not verify that what they were doing was perfectly legal then they should get whatever is coming to them.

     

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    JohnnyHeavens, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 8:57am

    Structured Settlement Investments...are they nuts?

    OK-Let's follow this general time line...Structured Settlement Investments fires Scott. Structured Settlement Investments lets Scott continue to use the systems there at the Structured Settlement Investments even after he was fired? Then Structured Settlement Investments says he sent secrets during this time as they simply watched? Structured Settlement Investments uses Scott's personal and offsite e-mail account including reading private messages and continues to do so long after his departure from the property.
    Sooooo many questions here. Aside from the company not having any exit procedures or even what might be common sense. I'm sure they don't want him to use work e-mail any longer yet they use his personal account? A Yahoo account is not stored on company resources and I'm sure Yahoo has some policy about accessing accounts that are not your own no matter how you come to be able to login. So who's to say Structured Settlement Investments didn't just send these "secrets" out via his account? If he's fired at say 9:00 am and e-mail is sent from a work computer at at 9:15 am then it can't be Scott's fault. After all, he was released 15mins ago and that machine is no longer his responsibility whatsoever. What about using an employee's name and impersonating them after they leave? They can't just have someone call clients and say they are Scott so why would they think they can keep accessing Yahoo while impersonating him? Foolish in the extreme!?!

     

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    Stylus, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 9:08am

    I do not agree with the companies actions here, even if they had monitoring software to lookup his yahoo email password or he "left" it open it doesn't matter it was wrong.

    We use a product that monitors computer usage including screen recording and keystroke tracking. I personally would prefer to turn off the keystroke tracking feature.

    I know that I could easily find peoples personal email passwords but that certainly does not give me the right to read their email at my own free will.

    Knowledge is power, power must be used morally and ethically.

     

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    James, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 9:14am

    Policy

    Our machines have a disclaimer when you logon. Anything and everything you do will be monitored. We have screen key stroke recording, caching proxy and all company emails are BCCd to a mailbox.

    The disclaimer clearly stats the computer and internet connection are the comapnys and should it choose to it will observe any thing that transpires on the machine.

     

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      sonofdot, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 9:23am

      Re: Policy

      Wow. Do they also chain you to your desk, so that you don't take unauthorized breaks? Video cameras over your desk, so that you don't do something not-work-related while you're on company time? Maybe next they'll have some sort of Vulcan mind-meld, so they can tell if your thoughts stray from work? I'm sure some of that policy is to limit company liability, but sounds like some of it is simply over-bearing and Draconian.

       

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        James, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 9:44am

        Re: Re: Policy

        There were lots of problems a few years back and we deal with very sensitive information. This was the result. I forgot to mention there is a machine in the break room you can use on break. It is connected to cable internet and not attached what so ever to the network.

        You need to do something personal you don't cached and stored, you do it there if you want. Also, there are no block on hosted email sites or much else for that matter. We give people freedom to what they need to, but if you mess up we will be able to prove it.

        Basically if you do your job, no one will ever go back and look at what you were doing. But I mean if you are going to do in appropriate activities, you should be smarter then to do it on your work PC.

         

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      some old gy, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 9:30am

      Re: Policy

      And just how does this policy allow you to log into a prior employees personal 3rd party email account weeks after they were fired?

       

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        James, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 9:47am

        Re: Re: Policy

        Never said we did that :), its just plan wrong and would be detrimental to any legal action being persuaded against a person if that were the case. But if we needed to see what you were doing while you worked there we could.

         

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      This is nuts, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 3:38pm

      Re: Policy

      The whole point is that they can only monitor the actual usage while it's being used. they can't use that as a blank check to access the guy's private information after the usage has already stopped. Let's forget email for a second. Would they have the right to access his bank account if he had done online banking from work? Or how about his medical records if he had accessed them from his computer? His employer cannot simply decide to access his email, or any other personal information, simply because they guy accessed it from his work computer at one time.

       

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    Peebles McGee, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 10:15am

    Productivity as it relates to Morale and Work/Life Balance

    Productivity is very closely related to Morale and an employee's work/life balance.

    Today, we're constantly connected and oftentimes work/life becomes ever more blurred. We're working from home, weekends, and answering emails on blackberry more than ever. As an employee, if I'm expected to have work infringe on home/personal life, what should everyone's expectations be? Of course, there is the occasional "bad apple" that abuses their downtime. It should be a considered "a problem" for a person who spends more than an hour a day working on their Facebook or other sites. If someone spends, say, more than 40 hours a month doing things that lack value to the organization need coaching, or additional work.

    Now, as for the debate on checking a person's personal email after they have left the company, it seems quite unethical. I see it akin to going to a former employee's mailbox outside their house and thumbing through their snail mail. There are protections for this. Should there be equal protections for email?

    But if their value and contribution to the company was so great, that it necessitates a level of corporate espionage, why did they even allow them to be let go?

     

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    Norm, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 10:19am

    Two wrongs

    Make both the employee and company wrong and now the lawyers will win.

     

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    humm4it2007, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:16am

    Not The Same

    Someone commented on the fact that reading this dude's email is the same as if they went to his house and opened his mail. It is not the same. He left his personal information on a COMPANY OWNED computer. He left it on their computers, they have a right to read it. This same situation happened at a company I used to work for and the judge ruled that because it was on a COMPANY OWNED computer that the company had a right to it. If you don't want your stuff read, then use your own damn computer.

     

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      Tony, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 2:41pm

      Re: Not The Same

      So, according to your reasoning:

      He left his house keys in a COMPANY OWNED desk. He left it in their desk, they have a right to use it.

       

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      Paul, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 4:37pm

      Re: Not The Same

      He didn't leave email on a company owned computer. He left access to his email on a company owned computer. So the analogy that someone else mentioned of leaving keys at work and the company using them to get in his house is a good one.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2012 @ 2:36pm

      Re: Not The Same

      so...another words...next time you pull into a McDonalds...toss your car keys to the owner so he can do his grocery shopping while you eat and use his parking???LOL Ok??

       

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        yan, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:13am

        Re: Re: Not The Same

        Don't try to confuse people, that just demonstrate more lies on your part. Your analogy would rather go like this: Yo drive into a McDonalds restaurant and park. Once inside the restaurant you need to go pee and you leave you keys on the table next to yourr girlfriend. Well, while you are at the bathroom the manager from McD's takes the keys from the table but making sure he distracts the girlfriend long enough so that he can take the keys without her noticing and goes for a spin with my car without my approval or knowledge. That sir is much closer to the reality we are discussing about which is by the way a felony punishable by law.

         

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    Anon-Y-Mouse, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:43am

    BZZT! Wrong humm4it! He did not leave any metarials on the PC. He left the ability to logon to an EXTERNAL e-mail system. This does not then give the company the right to logon onto said system - which is completely external to their system. If this was legal then it would be legal for an employer to access an employees (or fomrer emplyess!) bank account if they had happened to log onto their bank from work (which happens all the time, wise or not). Sin ce this is not legal - there arwe cases to bakc that one up BTW - then logging into an external e-mail system posing as the ex-employee is also illegal. The legal way to do it, if you suspected sensitive information to have been sent out, is through the courts and a suponea directly to Yahoo for the information.

     

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    Nicko, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    Its an intent case

    Basically you have to look at the intent of the company.
    1. If you redirected the personal account to reside on the companies equipment, that would not be considered stealing As they own where it delivered (unlike regular mail it is not a crime to intentionally open email not addressed to you)

    2. If you left a program fetching email off the personal account which remembers the username/password and someone their launched it, that could be accidental and not necessarily a crime.

    3. If a company used usernames/passwords, cookies, etc that they knew were not theirs and used them to access a system that did not belong to them (e.g. yahoo webmail) they probably committed illegal access, illegal interception, forgery (ID Theft), and possible data interference (deletion).

    A good analogy of #3 is if I left a set of house keys in my desk, and left the company, that does not give the company the right to access my home or take my property (it may not be breaking & entering but it still is trespassing with intent and theft).

    So even if they might be able to convince them that the access was accidental (dropping illegal access component), using the content is still theft and fraud.

     

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    charlie, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    If you are at work, you should be working and not searching
    your personal e-mail. The dumbass deservied to be fired.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 12:43pm

      Re:

      I hope you read techdirt on your personal equipment only

       

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      Brad, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:39pm

      Re:

      so... you have never used work equipment for anything remotely personal?
      Never emailed yourself a link? Never had to check an address before you left work?
      If you haven't then you are either unemployed or drive a forklift for a living.

       

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    charlie, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:29pm

    I was at a Company that at a point had to get rid of Internet access because of to much use of doing personal business being done on company time, plus porn and other stupid shit. If you log on to a personal account and don't log off then tuff shit buddy. Anyone out there that has a business has the right to monitor what is done on there computer's. This guy screwed himself, end of story.

     

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      Paul, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 4:44pm

      Re:

      Its not a question of whether the monitoring was wrong or not. Think of it more like he forgot a piece of paper with his password on it and they used that to access personal files. And anyway, if you treat employees as work horses, you suck at managing a business. Yea, you have the right to monitor it, but its a terrible business decision because its been shown time and again that productivity goes down. Employers don't like it cause they think, "wah, i'm paying for them to do personal business. I need to stop that and make them work the *entire* time they're here." and when they do that, the employees become less productive because their work environment just became a sucky place to work. I hope you never own a business seeing as how you lack any insight into managing people.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Greg, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:37pm

    Were they Keystroking him?

    Is there anything in the case to say whether they were recording his keystrokes.

    Things like this is why I now only do personal searching on my iphone.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    charlie, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 1:37pm

    Check your mail on your own time.
    Work is from 8 to 5.
    You have 2 brakes and a hour lunch.
    Thats your time to eat,nap or play.
    At other times during the day your on company time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    The SEO Kid, Jun 30th, 2008 @ 12:30pm

    lol

    no you can't. the email can be considered intellectual property of the person who is logged in. Did they write the email? yea. If they wrote it its theirs. no one elses. has lawsuit written all over it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    bill, Jul 6th, 2008 @ 11:00am

    Can they keep my name.

    This is indirectly associated with the personal email of an employee. What if you are let go and the company continues to use the email address that they gave you and this email address happens to have your name in it?
    Also, when I checked their website, I am listed as the Branch Manager with that email address, still.
    Do I have some recourse here. It's been two months. Do you think they value my personal business contacts so much that they don't want them to know I've left?
    The more I think about this the more illegal it sounds.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      out of a job, Jul 9th, 2008 @ 5:27pm

      Re: Can they keep my name.

      I'm in the same boat and I'm more worried about personal notifications that are still going there. I've tried to change most of them, but I know someone is reading them. They comment on them before they forward them to me and actually went in to one account and changed the email notification.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Cyndi, Aug 15th, 2008 @ 7:39pm

      Re: Can they keep my name.

      What became of this? This week I found out that an employer I left 60 days ago had my e-mail forwarded to herself rather than tag it with a link stating that I was no longer with the company with her e-mail address and contact information. I'm disturbed that my name is still being used with a company I am no longer with and no longer support. I'm concerned that she can keep that account open as long as she likes - I called the corp office of the company and their HR person told me she can keep it open as long as she thinks it is beneficial to the company...How long can they legally use my name?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Need Answers, Jul 17th, 2008 @ 12:17pm

    Anyone know the LEGAL Answer??

    While I value all your opinions and find myself in agreement with most, I was wondering if anyone knew the actual, legal answer to this situation?

    More specifically, my fiance was just wrongfully terminated from his job. He was accused of doing side jobs (which was NOT true, he was offered the opportunity to do so, but he did the right ethical thing and declined them). The man who offered him these jobs just called him up and told him that his ex-bosses had just spoken with him, and they informed him that the reason they 'thought' my fiance was accepting side jobs was because they hacked into his PERSONAL gmail account and saw some of the emails that this man had sent him.

    This man told the ex-boss that while he did offer my fiance the work, he rightfully declined it, and he is happy to serve as a witness in my fiance's defense. But my question is this: were his former employers legally allowed to hack into his personal email account without his knowledge or consent (while he was away from his work computer) and read through his personal emails? Regardless of how they obtained his password (be it through keystroke recording software or other forms of employer espionage), are they legally entitled to log into his personal email account and read through his personal emails? If anyone knows the legal answer to this question, I would be eternally grateful, as I am about ready to explode with anger at this situation. Opinions are welcomed, but please clarify that they are your opinions, and not something you've excerpted from a law book. Thanks in advance!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Rachel, Nov 5th, 2008 @ 3:30pm

      Re: Anyone know the LEGAL Answer??

      No, they can't legally do that. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy when checking your personal e-mail, even if you're using an employer-supplied computer, portable device, or internet access. Not only that, the e-mails are stored on a server that is not located on the employer's place of business or on a vendor's place of business (from what I understand, if e-mail servers are outsourced and paid for by the employer then technically the employer still owns the content located in their account on the server being used).

      I hope this answers your question.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        GB Nov2008, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 12:58pm

        Re: Re: Anyone know the LEGAL Answer??

        I would like to know if anyone has actually received legal advice on this matter, or if anyone has case law supporting it.

        A friend went through something very similar this week. She was released last week. A work friend called her this week and said the owner quoted verbatim, a message from a colleague that sent a Private Message to her Facebook account the day aAFTER she was terminated. FaceBook policy states that only the user with the password can see that area.

        It is clear to me that the former employer hacked a password protected document that contained other personal passwords (left on the company laptop), or paid for a hacker/cracker application to access her FaceBook, LinkedIn and Plaxo accounts, along with personal emails (yahoo, gmail, etc).

        This is clearly unauthorized access, and a legal violation on many levels. But which laws/Acts in aprticular?

        Could be jail time and civil action exposure for employer, and anyone they instructed to, or knew of that were involved.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          GB Nov2008, Dec 6th, 2008 @ 1:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Anyone know the LEGAL Answer??

          Also, FaceBook, Gmail, etc should maintain a record of dates and times an account is accessed, and by which IP address. Clearly, if that is produced and an access was made by the IP address of the employer AFTER the date of termination this should be a prima facia example

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        PJB, Jun 16th, 2011 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re: Anyone know the LEGAL Answer??

        I agree if he's still working there. HOwever, if he left access to his email on company computer after he was no longer employed that seems to be his problem. Just like you don't throw mail in the trash that you don't want people to read. He didn't take proper action to secure his email. That's his problem.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Kiki, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 7:39am

    Employer Still Using My Email Address Even Though I No Longer Work There

    I have the same concern as a few of the comments above. I resigned on good terms a couple of months ago and my former employer has kept my email address, which uses my full name and they do not send a bounce message.

    I do not know if they are replying to any of my email but it seems to me that they are impersonating me and this should be illegal.

    Is this legal?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    ALEX, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 7:33pm

    EMAIL

    I say Yahoo disconnects after so many minutes and the employee logged into his personal email. So they broke into his email. That email account belongs to him they have no right in that account and that is totally illegal. Why did he leave his peronal property at the office after getting fired? Probably going back to get it after every one was gone or they said they would send it to him. My agrument would be that Yahoo disconnects after such and such time. Let us know what happens or happened.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Edward Ganoczy, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 4:30am

    Abandoned Property

    I replaced a fired Office Manager in Aug '07. She's actually been gone since July '07 and has not returned to claim some of her personal property. I'm checking to see if that would fall into the category of "abandoned property?" Some assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    Eddie

     

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    identicon
    PaulP, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 7:55pm

    What?

    Well, here's my comment, hope it give a good idea and maybe help resolve some of your problem.

    1. Keeping your company email address > Yes, the employer can keep your company's email address as long as they feel there is a need to. They own it, but they can't use your email account in replying, that would be impersonating. They keep it because your email may have customer request/discussion which affect the company. It might be possible to set a forward email address & out of office note which will forward the email & also let the sender know that this person is no longer working for the company.

    3. Personal email @work > WHY WOULD YOU USE PERSONAL EMAIL AT WORK? SHOULDN'T YOU BE WORKING? Check it at home and don't send email from your company's email to your personal email. Company that allow you to use your personal email at work is lacking major security issues, they can eventually loose the company for a lot of reason.

    4. Yahoo email disconnect > they do disconnect, but they have an option to keep it log on for 2 weeks. Some people might be stupid enough to leave it log on. Keep log on even if you close the browser. Again, read # 3 cap phrase.

    5. Abandon property > as long as you give a reasonable notices & time to response to the employee that the personal property will be consider "abandon". I think it could be consider so.

    6. Work environment (@the other Paul) > No. you have to set a rule to run a business. If you don't, your employee will do whatever they want. They are there for work, not for fun. Productivity is control by management not vise versa. "No Horse playing"

     

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    identicon
    kc, Jan 14th, 2009 @ 10:04am

    A colleague sent me an e-mail from my account

    My company is in a state of flux and they are re-organizing. They recently hired someone new, who is expected to be promoted, but hasn't been yet. I recently had email dialogue w/ that person and that person e-mailed me from my account, so it's obvious they have access to my e-mail at work (even though they are somewhat my peer and not even on my direct team). I'm wondering, since they don't mind reading my work e-mail, if they also have tracked my personal information and personal e-mail, as well. How would I know?

     

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  •  
    identicon
    BK, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 7:54pm

    How about the deleted emails

    After leaving a company and the personal emails were deleted could they pull them back up from history on the hard drive.

     

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    identicon
    Neil Schubert, Mar 13th, 2009 @ 7:20pm

    a possible answer

    I am not a lawyer, but have researched this in detail. The person above who used the house key analogy is on target.

    When you sigh up for a yahoo, msn, or google mail account, or many other types of mail accounts, you enter a contract with that service provider. That contract states something to the effect that you (the account holder) may not share or rent your account to another person. It gives only you limited rights to acess and use that account for personal use.

    In civil law, the employer interfered with the yahoo account user's contract with yahoo. The employer can be sued by both the employee and by yahoo itself. The employer did not have Yahoo's consent to access their servers.

    It is against federal law to access stored communications without consent. Because the employee (the person who was under contract with yahoo) was obviously not present at the time the data was accessed, this action can be considered a federal crime. Refer to 18 United States Co de section 2510.

    The best way to explain this is that yahoo.com did not give the employer consent to access its servers, with specific data from a password protected account. Since a contract for employment terminates at the end of employment, accessing such information, whether or not you have the "password" is still not legal, because the access was not done by the yahoo account holder, during employment. The only way this would be legal is if the employer was yahoo.

    If an employee were to access an employer's network without their knowledge, after they left work, they would be in violation of the law. The same applies the other way around.

    Its a complex situation, but basically, because you (the employee) have a contract with yahoo, your employer cannot interfere with it. Presenting copies of illegally accessed data in a court of law can incriminate the employer.

    As I say, "Bugs" are for the FBI. If I were the employee in this case, I would call the US attorney's office, and the FBI.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      masoud, Jun 7th, 2010 @ 11:05pm

      Re: a possible answer

      another related question;

      can an employer monitor e-mails sent from a terminated employee to colleagues at the company ? The ex-employee was using his own device and e-mail account.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Vernon Stone, Dec 14th, 2009 @ 11:15am

    It should be fair game!

    I completely understand his complaint about his company checking his personal email but at the same time im for the company on this part.

    Just like the Army policy I think all companies should have the same policy. Anything done on the company computer is subject to investigation. If you did not want your personal email being viewed by others then you should have not of been viewing it yourself at a public computer.

    The first thing you do before you can login to any Military computer is the DOD Banner:


    "You should have no expectation of privacy in your use of this network. Use of this network constitutes consent to monitoring, retrieval, and disclosure of any information stored within the network for any purpose including criminal prosecution."

    I imagine millions if not billions of dollars is lost in two ways. People checking personal emails/social groups/phone calls at work and people taking potential business for their own profit and filtering it to their personal email/phone. You are using their electricty to power the network/computer their computer their network and I imagin you are getting paid while doing this to check your email at work.

    Also as a side note after 180 days email messages lose their protection under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. And on top of that if your company has a policy in hand stating the same thing as government computers it does not matter what agreement you have with someone else you broke that contract when you logged onto the computer and started checking your email.

    On top of all that I imagin he gave them the right when he logged on and left it open.

    I'm not a legal guy so I may be wrong but I'm great when it comes to IT things. I think that company needs to filter out personal email sites and other persoan things like twitter or myspace and put more strict policies into place as far as using them and monitoring them.

     

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    identicon
    Long Year, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:32pm

    Another Question

    I was terminated and did not realize my personal email account was forwarding messages to my (believed to be cancelled)work email. Old boss put together enough bogus accusations about my new job to say I was stealing? Months after being fired are those emails still company property??

     

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    identicon
    Employee, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 12:48pm

    Bosses Who Hack

    I've had bosses try all kinds of tactics to PRESSURE me to log into MY PERSONAL email account on a COMPANY COMPUTER, apparently so they could find out my personal email account with their keylogging software. I didn't want to do it -- and I didn't, but they pressured me. I mean a private email account like yahoo or gmail, etc. Later, however, they seemed to know some things in my personal email, even though I never logged on at work. That stopped when I started changing my passwords to difficult to discover ones. It was all very creepy. I feel violated.

     

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    identicon
    Employee, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 12:53pm

    Bosses Who Hack

    In my above message, I mistakenly left out that I thought my bosses were trying to find out the password to my personal email account. They already knew my personal email because I used it to reply to their employment ad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Rabbit, Sep 25th, 2011 @ 1:58pm

    PJB.

    As Neil Schubert pointed out about, what they did probably violates both civil and federal law.

    So, actually, you are 100% wrong. It's not his problem, it's their problem.

     

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    identicon
    yan, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:07am

    Hacked by Boss after I successfully complete contract.

    My exBoss went even further (on top of hacking into my personal online accounts)and used this personal email account to send pill mill adds to everyone in my contacts, that is attempt on ones reputation. I feel a lawsuit coming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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