July 19, 2008

They can't own all of you

A nice little ruling in the US last month, which determined that employers don't own your electronic soul (no matter how many threatening terms and conditions they flash on the screen and insist you "accept" before logging onto the company network).

If the company provides the email device and contracts with the email service, then the content belongs to the company, right? Or so goes conventional logic.

In San Francisco, a court of appeals rejected that idea, unanimously ruling in favor of a police officer and others who claimed that the city of Ontario, California violated their Fourth Amendment rights by reading the contents of their text messages, which had been held by a hosted carrier.

Specifically, the unanimous decision stated:

"Do users of text messaging services such as those provided by Arch Wireless have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their text messages stored on the service provider’s network? We hold that they do."

"As with letters and e-mails, it is not reasonable to expect privacy in the information used to “address” a text message, such as the dialing of a phone number to send a message. However, users do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of their text messages vis-a-vis the service provider."

What the ruling means is that if an employer pays for use of third party text or email services the boss can’t get copies of your messages from that provider without your permission. The holding that text messages and email are protected by the Fourth Amendment, which gives victims of unlawful searches the ability to suppress illegally obtained evidence. It protects the privacy of employees who use a messaging service paid for by their company.

Full ruling here

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