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NJ Court Upholds Privacy of Personal Emails At Work 172

Posted by Soulskill
from the easier-said-than-done dept.
chiguy sends word of a ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court which found that a company did not have the right to read emails from an employee's personal account even through the account was accessed on a company computer. This ruling is likely to set precedent for other workplace privacy cases around the country. "'The court has recognized the very legitimate and real concerns with regards to privacy. This gives some guidance to employers in terms of how explicit (e-mail) policies need to be,' [attorney Marvin Goldstein] said. The ruling stems from a harassment and discrimination lawsuit Marina Stengart of Bergen County filed three years ago against Loving Care of Ridgefield Park. Stengart, then the executive director of nursing, sent her attorney eight e-mails from her company-loaned laptop about her issues with her superiors. Stengart used her Yahoo e-mail account. 'Under all of the circumstances, we find that Stengart could reasonably expect that e-mails she exchanged with her attorney on her personal, password-protected, web-based e-mail account, accessed on a company laptop, would remain private,' Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the decision, which upholds an appeals court’s ruling last year."
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NJ Court Upholds Privacy of Personal Emails At Work

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  • by Nickodeemus (1067376) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:20PM (#31708574)
    The data exists on the company's computers, likely passed through their network and servers, and because of these things they are legally accesible by the company. Unless the company accessed her email account at Yahoo using this data, there doesn't seem to be an issue to me. Unfortunately, the article is sparse on the details. Only an idiot would think, in these times, that the things they do on their company PC or laptop would not be accisible by the company. Just because they issue you a system doesn't make that system yours - its theirs, including all its contents.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @03:37PM (#31709274)

    When I read the Constitution I found this section called the Fourth Amendment. This is what is said:

    Amendment 4 - Search and Seizure.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    I think reading private, off-site, email that is completely separate from work with a password you found cached in work equipment is a violation the "security" of the person in the story. I find that "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" and privacy regarding a person's home and private correspondence to be synonymous. The article mentions no potato but it does say a thing or to about potato. (The words "potato" and "potato" should be treated as phonetically different in the previous sentence and may alternately, at your pleasure, both be replaced in whole by the two words "tomato" and "tomato")

    For instance, if you leave a spare house key in your desk drawer (which is using work equipment for personal use again) can management take it an go looking through your underwear drawer?

  • by rsborg (111459) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:38PM (#31709744) Homepage

    what if she used her private email to send email with sensitive company info to a competitor?

    What's stopping her from putting a file into her briefcase/backpack and taking it home and sending it there? What about thumbdrives or synched cell-phones (which allow file-storage)?

    Face it, unless the worker is in a secured area, the "need to monitor all traffic to prevent leaks" is borderline paranoiac. There needs to be an appropriate level of trust (this includes carrots and threats-of-sticks) for any worker to be productive.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Friday April 02, 2010 @07:07PM (#31710960)

    Especially since the Constitution was really set up to protect the individuals right to privacy, that the government seems so willing to defer that right because a business is involved is very scary.

    This demonstrates a remarkable misunderstanding of Constitutional law.

    First off, the issue here is not "privacy" per se, but rather the right to be secure against unreasonable searches. The Constitution (as other comments have noted) says nothing about "privacy" per se, but rather mentions only a few related rights. "Privacy," as a legal concept, was founded in Supreme Court jurisprudence of the 20th century to strike down laws outlawing birth control, abortions, sodomy, etc. The "right to privacy," as defined in those court cases (and which is not explicitly in the Constitution) has to do with some amorphous right to do what you want in your own private life, with your own body, etc. This is a related but separate issue from things like the Fourth Amendment, which protects you from unreasonable searches. In any case, this is only one of many issues in the Constitution, so the idea that "the Constitution was really set up to protect the individual[']s right to privacy" is simply wrong.

    Second, the right against unreasonable searches is a restriction on the powers of government, not of private individuals or entities. This is true of most "rights" granted by the Constitution in general. For example, you may have the right to "free speech" guaranteed by the Constitution, but if you choose to exercise that right in a way that annoys your boss, you can generally be fired. You can't be arrested by the government for exercising that right, but the limitations on the government's power has nothing to do with businesses. So, in a similar way, a company could have a policy requiring employees to undergo random searches periodically, random drug tests, etc. If the government did that, they would potentially be violating your Fourth Amendment rights against searches, but a private corporation is certainly allowed to search you in any way, as long as such searches don't subject you to harm or undue distress, aren't discriminatory, and particularly if you agreed to them as a condition of employment.

    So, the whole idea that the government is "deferring" rights to businesses is nonsense. Businesses often have little obligation to hold up any of your rights unless there are specific laws requiring them to. The Bill of Rights is generally about various restrictions on the powers of the government. Those "rights" only extend to private entities when there are laws explicitly saying so.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Friday April 02, 2010 @07:30PM (#31711150) Journal

    Since Federal law always trumps state law, you're wrong.

    Have you actually read the first amendment? It says that Congress shall not... it says nothing about states rights. The SCOTUS decided some time back that it would be unconcionable for states to restrict some rights and hence the first amendment applies to states also. Other amendments provided the rationale for this decision.

    Why is this distinction important? Well, what about gun rights? the SCOTUS has not yet decided if gun rights can be restricted at the state level. It's not so clear that all the rights enumerated in the bill of rights cannot be restricted by the states.

  • by shentino (1139071) on Friday April 02, 2010 @08:04PM (#31711402)

    And they should get smacked for that right there.

    There's something called attorney client privilege. If the company WILLFULLY breached that there should be some MAJOR league hell to pay.

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