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This is funny as hell!:

US employees find no right to privacy in cyberspace

American courts are endorsing the monitoring of workers, says Patti Waldmeir
Published: August 12 2001 20:20GMT | Last Updated: August 13 2001 15:24GMT

US courts have a message for American employees. To borrow a phrase from
Scott McNealy, the chairman of Sun Microsystems: "You have zero privacy.
Get over it."

Worried by productivity losses in a failing economy, the leaking of trade
secrets and lawsuits for discrimination, employers are doing more to
monitor the online behaviour of employees.

And the law is proving no obstacle, lawyers attending the annual American
Bar Association conference in Chicago were told last week. Courts are
endorsing even the most extreme invasions of employee privacy, ruling that
employees have no reason to expect privacy when using a work computer, even
if some personal use has been sanctioned by their boss.

Technology is rapidly out-pacing the law in this area; the privacy rights
of American employees are being determined not by courts but by software,
privacy activists say.

But now that technology has begun to touch the courts themselves, some
judges are speaking out. Last week, the chief judge of the country's
leading technology court, the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals in
California, confirmed that a group of judges from that court is protesting
at the monitoring of their own online activities.

In May, some senior Ninth Circuit judges ordered their staff to disable
software used to monitor the computers of about 10,000 judges and federal
employees. A panel of senior judges is to discuss the issue next month.

One of the California judges claims such monitoring violates the federal
wiretap statute. But technology and employment law experts say almost no
court agrees with him.

"It's astonishing the way the courts have deferred to employers," says
Stewart Baker, a cyber-law expert who was former general counsel of the US
National Security Agency. Even when employers have promised not to monitor
online behaviour or offered to give the employee tools to protect personal
communications, such as encryption and passwords, courts have still upheld
their right to snoop.

According to a survey by the American Management Association, the primary
reason for the intrusion is fear of lawsuits. Employers face huge potential
liability if they fail to police networks for racial or sexual jokes, or
for sexual harassment.

An AMA survey released this year showed that three-quarters of US
businesses electronically monitor employee communications. This week's
survey shows why: among employers who monitor, 68 per cent said legal
liability was the primary reason.

Employers are finding it cheap and easy to snoop - and costly not to. But
the price is paid in employee privacy, civil liberties advocates say.

So long as the employer owns the network, case law is on his side. Mr Baker
cites a recent case from Texas where a Microsoft employee sued the
corporation for breaking into his "personal store" of computer files,
arguing that by allowing him to create this "store" of password-protected
personal files Microsoft created an expectation of privacy.

The court disagreed, finding that the files were "an inherent part of the
office environment". Employees could secure their personal belongings in a
real-world locker, using their own lock, the court found. But they could
not do the equivalent on a network owned by their employer.

ABA legal experts say employers should still protect themselves by seeking
the consent of employees. And if a worker will not consent? "In the US? I'd
fire him," says Mr Baker. However, he says this approach might not work
outside America, and especially in some European countries with more
stringent employee privacy laws.

But even in the US, ABA legal experts say, employees may be able to fight
back by challenging not the monitoring, but the monitors.

If monitors go beyond the bounds of propriety, they may open a new frontier
of corporate liability. In the past, says Mr Baker, employees have
succeeded in challenging monitoring in specific circumstances, such as
security guards snooping on lavatories.

Slowly, the conventional wisdom is being challenged. Recently, a senior
federal judge in Minnesota argued that searches of computers should be
handled like other legal searches: companies should have probable cause to
snoop, searches should be limited in scope and employees should get notice
and the right to be present.

But for the moment that remains a minority view. In technology and in law,
courts and employers are saying workers have no privacy. "Get over it."

Edward   ><+>

"The desire to rule is the mother of heresies." ~ St. John Chrysostom

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