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Skin Sites Sink Employee's Ship
8/11/2006
 
ROBIN'S PERSPECTIVE: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their workplace computers. (US v. Ziegler, (WL2255688, Aug.8, 2006). When a Montana company’s network administrator reported that Jeffrey Ziegler had accessed child pornography web sites from his work computer, the company management called the FBI to investigate. The company cooperated and turned over Ziegler’s computer tower without requiring a search warrant, which caused Ziegler’s attorney to seek to suppress the evidence contained on the computer’s hard drive.

The court held that the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable government search and seizures applies only if the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the invaded place. The court held that the hard drive of an employer-owned computer, located in the employer’s place of business, and subject to a written policy that says the employer is entitled to monitor what its employees did on the computer, meant that Ziegler had no legitimate expectation of privacy for that computer.

Employees need to be very aware of the fact that even if the computer is located within a locked private office, the hard drive of the computer itself is not likely to be considered a specific realm of privacy. Privacy interests are not determined solely by who owns the property, but upon what expectations are reasonable in light of all the factors relating to ownership. A key factor for this court, and for others, is whether or not the employer has implemented a policy limiting personal use of computers, and stating that it routinely monitors computers.

Best advice: Child pornography is illegal, and no one can condone doing illegal things at work. Make it a rule that you don’t visit “skin” sites from work computers.
 
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Robin Bond
 
Robin Bond, Esq.
 
 
Workplace Legal Analyst


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