Published on:

San Diego: No Privacy For Home Computer

In San Diego, many residents have computers. Some computers are purchased by an employer, such as in the below example, and some are purchased privately. BestBuy and Circuit City are two locations where computers can be purchased and there are many others. At Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP, we endorse neither company and they are listed for illustrative purposes only.

The rules and expectation of privacy are different for computers for employment use purchased by an employer for an employee and a private user. Of course, in neither case would there be privacy if a search warrant from a Judge of the San Diego Superior Court was issued for the computer as this would authorize law enforcement to seize the computer as part of illegal activity. If you have any questions regarding this, please feel free to e mail our law firm.

An insurance services company bought two computers for use by Robert, one of its employees. One computer was used at the office, and one was used exclusively at home. Robert signed a policy statement in which he agreed that he would use the computers for business purposes only and not for various inappropriate purposes, including accessing obscene material. He also consented to having his computer use monitored “as needed” by employer personnel and agreed that his communications by computer were not private.

When Robert’s employer determined that he had used the home computer to view sexually explicit material, it fired him, despite Robert’s protests that he had not intentionally accessed the pornographic sites. Robert sued for wrongful discharge, contending that the real reason he was let go was the fact that three days after the termination some of his stock options were going to vest. Since the company contended that the home computer was likely to contain evidence that Robert was deliberately accessing pornography, it demanded that the computer be produced, with nothing deleted from the hard drive. Robert refused, arguing that he had an expectation of privacy when using a computer at home, even a computer supplied by his employer.

The court ordered Robert to turn over the computer under the terms required by his employer. It rejected the argument that the home computer was a “perk” for senior executives that could be used for personal purposes. In Robert’s case, the home computer was, in fact, primarily used by him and his family for personal matters. Information on the computer included his family’s financial information and personal correspondence. Robert and his family had been treating the home computer as a personal computer at their own risk.

Robert lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in the home computer, in part because he had notice of and had consented to his employer’s policy allowing only business use of the computer. Another factor weighing against his position, however, was “accepted community norms.” He could not argue forcefully that there had been an invasion of privacy given that, according to the court, over three-quarters of major firms in the country monitor, record, and review employee communications and activities on the job.

Contact Information