Workplace privacy is in the news again. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of City of Ontario v. Quon in which personal text messages were sent on an employer-provided pager. Are these text messages private? Does the user have an expectation of privacy?
The blogs SCOTUSblog and the Volokh Conspiracy both reported on this, as did the mainstream press, including National Public Radio, the Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, the New York Times, the L.A. Times, and many more. The New York Times hosted a written debate about the issue.
Workplace privacy doesn’t involve constitutional rights, as there is no right to privacy in general and the constitution has been held to be specific to the government, not private employers. However, the issue is such that many organizations have focused on this topic: for example, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Publishing Law Center, and the ACLU. The ACLU states that “…the ACLU receives more complaints about workplace rights violations than about any other issue.”
As administrators, these issues affect us directly: it is often administrators who implement and oversee much of the technological surveillance, including digital cameras, email surveillance, web filtering, and more. It also becomes important in terms of protecting privacy as well, preventing data from leaking out from corporate servers. There is also e-discovery in which documents must be turned over during the case of a trial.
Before implementing a new method of monitoring, one should be aware of the laws involved and also implement a written policy that all employees will be made aware of. If this is not done, an admin can find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
This lawsuit has the potential to rewrite the laws on workplace privacy; the SCOTUS Wiki has a nice write-up on all of the details.