Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Reasonable Expectation" of email privacy extended to workplace

A few months ago personal email was given the same privacy status as postal mail. On December 10th the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia ruled that an employee's personal email sent on company equipment can have the same expectation - if certain conditions are met. The case was Convertino v. US Dep't of Justice, and stemmed from the DOJ's desire to access personal emails that an employee had sent to his lawyer from work. He argued attorney client privilege, the DOJ argued he could have no expectation of privacy with email he sent from work. The judge ruled that the employee did have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The decision was based on these points:

* DOJ's computer use policy did not prohibit personal use of the DOJ email system.
* The employee took steps to delete the privileged emails promptly.
* The employee was not aware that DOJ's system retained a copy of the emails after he had deleted them.

This is a good thing, but it has downside. If you're employers make it clear that company policy prohibits personal use of company email, absolutely any email sent through your company is fair game. If you don't delete the emails promptly, they could become fair game, even if there is no policy against personal use of email.

The best way to handle the pitfalls of using company email to send personal messages is, don't, but if you have to, this gives you some possibilty of keeping the messages private.