Court Says Employees Have No Expectation Of Privacy For Stuff On Company Owned Computers
from the well,-duh dept
A court ruling in New Jersey doesn’t seem all that surprising, but may lead to more legal questions in the future. The case involved an employee who was stealing from his employer. The employee was eventually found guilty of the theft, but argued that the evidence used against him was gathered illegally, in that it was in a password protected file on his company-owned laptop. It’s actually a little more confusing, as the guy actually claimed the laptop was his, but that turned out not to be true. He had originally purchased the computer using his employers credit card… but then still pretended the computer was his personal laptop. Yet, later, he “sold” the laptop to the company — so realistically, the company had bought the laptop twice.
So, then the legal question was whether or not the guy had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for stuff stored on that laptop, especially in a password protected file. The court ruled no, that an employee does not have a reasonable expectation for privacy, and that, effectively, anything on the computer is fair game for the employer (even if it’s password protected).
You can understand the reasoning there, as it makes sense that a company should feel free to go through the contents of a computer it owns. However, it does raise some other questions. Earlier this summer, we wrote about another case in which a company continued to read the personal email of a fired employee, because he had left his personal online email account logged in from the company-owned laptop. While that seems different, is it really that big a leap from data stored on the local hard drive, to data stored on a remote hard drive, accessed via a web browser? It does, however, start to become a much trickier question, especially as more data and apps move from the local laptop into the “cloud” and as work and life boundaries blur.