BREAKING: Attorney Andrew Shubin files civil rights retaliation lawsuit on behalf of female employee against Penn State University.
Attorney Andrew Shubin files civil rights sexual harassment and retaliation law suit on behalf of a female employee against Philipsburg Osceola School District

Don't expect privacy on work phone or computer

Sunday, June 20, 2010
BY DIANA FISHLOCK
Message from the Supreme Court: “Privacy? LOL. Use ur phone.”

The court last week unanimously upheld a police department’s search of an officer’s personal, sometimes sexually explicit, messages on a government-owned pager, saying the search did not violate his constitutional rights.

The common-sense message to all employees: If you want privacy, use your own cell phone, pager or computer.

“They were really clear they were dealing with police officers in that setting,” said Michael Foreman, the director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Penn State Dickinson School of Law. It might be hard to transfer that ruling to a schoolteacher or someone working at a private business, he said. “But I think the court is signaling in the electronic age, there is less expectation of privacy in general.”

Officials from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Highmark Blue Shield and Rite Aid were not available Friday to discuss their policies about monitoring employees’ use of work computers or other technology.

State workers using office technology shouldn’t expect privacy, said a spokesman for the Office of Administration.

“Those devices, your computer, your BlackBerry, other technology issued to you from the commonwealth is our property, and we reserve the right to monitor your use of them to make sure you are not going to sites that are not work-related and engaging in behavior that is not work-appropriate,” spokesman Dan Egan said.

Of course, everyone does a certain amount of personal work.

“You need to tell your spouse to pick up eggs and milk after work?” Egan said. That’s OK as long as it doesn’t conflict with work and is not excessive. “There is a certain amount of personal and work life that is blending from time to time,” he said.

Private businesses aren’t that different. They tell individuals: “When I give you this technology, you have no expectation of privacy,” Foreman said.