back to article Employee has no privacy on company computers, US court rules

Employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for material stored on computers owned by their employers, a US court has ruled. The New Jersey court said that files on a work-owned computer can be accessed and searched if the company gives permission, even if the user does not. The ruling came in the case of a man …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I for one welcome our new BOFH overlords.

  2. mark Silver badge

    of course"

    reminds me off the monty python "union meeting" sketch where the union activists demand full pay etc for brother jones, who's dead and been rotting on theradiator for a week.

    also reminds me of such ludicrous laws as a "phone tap recordings cannot be used in court"

  3. Steven Jones

    Coomon sense prevails

    So let me get this right - somebody was using his employee's equipment as a means of defrauding them and then, because he tried to hide what he was doing, proceeded to claim that the employer had no right to see what he was up to. So a lawyer tried to argue this case with a straight face and it was taken half seriously?

    Simple point - if you want to defraud the company (or hold information which you consider to be personal) then don't use their equipment.

  4. Mark

    This would include

    The employee otherwise known as "the CEO", yes?

    But I seem to remember some IT grunt being sacked or sued for reading the CEO's email a while back.

    Ah well, privilege does mean "private law". And the CEO's of large companies are certainly "the privileged".

  5. Ash


    MA had been dismissed, and therefore his equipment would be re-distributed according to company policy. I've no doubt that this includes inspecting the contents of the drive to look for company property which would be destroyed if the computer was wiped before redistribution.

    In short, the guy was no longer an employee.

  6. Sooty

    hasn;t thsi always been the case

    company owns the computer, company owns the data on it.

    when i first started i was told this, they even said don't write a book on the company pc's in your spare time as they would be part owners.

  7. Adam


    Rowan Atkinson was a Python?

    I do believe you mean "Not the Nine O'Clock News", dear boy ;-)

    I think that this "MA" chap is a right plonker if he expected to give himself a 200% pay-rise above his old salary without anyone (the person who does his salary reviews?!) finding out.

  8. Jason Croghan

    ...because he has AIDS...

    Why the hell does that even come into it? If people don't want second rate handling of minority groups then they have to stop creating the minority groups...

  9. Aetyr

    You'd be surprised... many actual people, even over here in the UK, think "do not install unauthorised third-party software on your work computer/laptop" means "well, OK, if you want to install Skype to talk to your mate in Australia or you need to have iTunes and 30GB of music then you can ignore the rules of the people who actually own that machine".

    It's hard to convince people who use work-provided (and therefore -owned and -regulated) computers that they can't just go installing whatever they want, letting their kids download and play all sorts of free net games. Of course, they suddenly remember that the equipment belongs to the company when it comes to expensive repairs (often because there's jam under the keyboard or something).

    Oh yeah, and then they get up in arms when you take away their admin rights so they can't use the machine as their own personal toy.

  10. Dick
    Thumb Down

    The only news here

    is that someone thinks this is news.

  11. noodle heimer

    what happens when a sloppy BOFH gets canned

    Oh, that's rich.

    One of the computers was one the company had bought *twice.*

    Once on its credit card, and again used?

    And since this fella'd sold them a lot of their systems, what are the odds

    that they bought it both times from him?


    I need a new keyboard.

    And yes, employees using their workplace computers to store data have zero expectation of privacy. Duh. In a managed or even half-managed network, they have no expectation of privacy even for web browsing. There are going to be logs available to consult, or at the very least some ability to look into network flows and document them, even if lots of other things aren't formally logged.

  12. Michael


    I own a laptop. I lend it to my parents. I don't need my parents' consent to sign off on a warrant to have the laptop searched. Why? Because it's MY laptop!!

    Anyone who expects privacy on their work computer is just naive.

  13. Mike

    I have no expectation of privacy, however...

    I also don't believe that there is anyone at my company that could get into my workstation without my knowledge and consent. They can re-image the machine, but I am never giving away my pgp keys or pass phrase ;)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    At my office we let people install what they want. I've got a laptop on my desk which appears to currently be recovering someones iTunes library from a failing hard drive as i type.

    For the most part, we don't care about this stuff. We expect people to be responsible adults, so we treat them that way. IT has more important things to do then treat employees like children and actively monitor everything they do. That said, yes there are many people with the proper permissions to look at any file on your hard drive, and we have a computer logging every website you visit. Computers are a company asset, and because of that, we have the right to search it if we suspect something, and we don't need a warrant to search our own property. We aren't required to give you back your personal data if you get fired either, but we're not about to claim copyright on the crappy romance novel you may be writing.

  15. Phil


    @ Mike: I seem to remember that in many cases(depending on the country) it is illegal to "forget" passwords or to refuse to give them if the encrypted data is on a computer that has been seized or belongs to someone else.

    I suppose it's a toss up between a week or two in prison for contempt of court, or several years for the fraud that your strong encryption has been hiding!!!!

    Personally, I feel that anyone who expects any privacy whatsoever on a work computer is an idiot, unless it is specifically spelled out on paper(although I wouldn't trust that either!!!).

    Fraud should be hidden by circumlocution.... ie: "If a hypothetical withdrawal of X had taken place, it could have been credited to my theoretical Cayman Islands account etc etc"

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    duh !

    Got my own computers and the works laptop, browse the odd news site while working and that is about it, the rest is work related sites until the web blocker blocks them or the vpn dies:( all the games and music is on the personal pc.

    Only recently got IE 7 and some other updates that were essential for a new package to work, took a long time for me to find and get the updates authorised

    company know my login details as it is on their system as plain text, which is maybe not that smart, but that's another thing :)

    anon post as not want to be linked to the above :)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You cannot trust them.

    Never ever allow an accountant near the cash, they are there purely as human calculators. Why they are even needed is beyond me, don't we have computers to do calculations.

    These malodorous creatures if they are not dipping into the till, are generally ruining any business, by taking the approach of either never or late paying suppliers, oh I am sure any business can run on air.

    Want to blame a group for the credit crunch or mass unemployment in the UK, you need go no further than accountants who are right in the middle of virtually every cockup in the business sector.

    It just shows how cheap these people are, carry out a crime for over half a million dollars, and too cheap to buy and use their own equipment.

    And it is interesting those who claim that the computers are a company asset, I wonder if they have checked to make sure the accountants actually paid the suppliers for them, otherwise those assets may very well belong to another company that you are merrily logging away on.

  18. Anonymous from Mars

    This was already done before

    A US court has already ruled that employees have no privacy on company computers. It happened, like, over a year ago.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Sauce for the goose...

    I got caught out like this - but my case was slightly different.

    I got transferred to one of the big outsourcing companies (I won't say who, but they are a bunch of Cowboys Shafting their Customers) back in the early 90s and it would have cost the bas******s a lot of money if I took voluntary redundancy but I was actually happy in my job and didn't want to leave.

    To cut a long story short, I was suspended for an Investigation into stuff (games, music and pics) found on 'my' computer; my colleagues were told to make sure there was nothing dodgy on their machines (ie get rid of anything dodgy) whilst mine was being checked.

    Since it was non-work related stuff (even though I had the CDs and games in question) I was accused of making my employer an involuntary "partner" in breaking Copyright law, so I was sacked for Gross Misconduct.

    I got sacked and couldn't claim Unfair Dismissal since I could not PROVE my colleagues had done the same - strange that, since the first thing they were told to do was get rid of the evidence that they had! Even worse, my manager knew what I had on my machine since he had asked me to email him some of the pictures...

    Moral of the story? Don't put ANYTHING on a work computer unless you are sure it is allowed. And don't take the word of the people you work with for what is safe either, since they could get the sack too...

    Flames as that is where my line management belong...

  20. Dave
    Black Helicopters

    If you don't want someone to know...

    I tend to use an ssh tunnel to a machine at home for things like this, and VNC to bring up stuff on that machine. As IT opened the ssh port on the firewall on request, I assume they are happy with what happens using it. It does mean that very little of my personal email and other data needs to be on the work machine (it helps to have an http proxy on the home machine as well...) I'm also paranoid enough that there are certain things I wouldn't put in an email at work, preferring to say it to people in person. I'm not quite at the stage of wanting to do it in places where I'm sure there's no eavesdropping but I'll probably get there eventually.

    Of course, the bu**ers probably have a keylogger on this machine.

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