U.S. court rules against employee computer privacy rights
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
August 8, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A federal appeals court in San
Francisco ruled today that workers have no legal expectation of
privacy on their office computers when their employer has an announced
policy of monitoring computers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision in
the case of a Montana man, Jeffrey Ziegler, who was prosecuted
in federal court for receiving child pornography images on his
The images were found after representatives of Ziegler's employer,
Frontline Processing of Bozeman, Mont., gave the FBI copies of
a hard drive from his computer in 2001.
The company had an announced policy that it could monitor computers
and that employees shouldn't use their office computers for private
Ziegler argued unsuccessfully that the evidence from his computer
should not be allowed in court because the FBI obtained it without
a search warrant.
But a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that workers
have no legitimate expectation of privacy when their employer
has a policy that computer usage can be monitored.
The federal court based its ruling partly on the reasoning of
a similar decision by a California appeals court in Los Angeles
The California court said that current social norms support a
doctrine that an employer's policy of monitoring computers can
overcome any expectation of privacy.
Federal Circuit Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote, "We think
the California court's reasoning is compelling."
O'Scannlain continued, "Social norms suggest that employees
are not entitled to privacy in the use of workplace computers,
which belong to their employers and pose significant dangers in
terms of diminished productivity and even employer liability."
In the Montana case, Ziegler pleaded guilty in 2004 to a charge
of receiving obscene materials, but retained the right to appeal
the issue of whether the evidence should be suppressed. He was
sentenced to probation and fined $1,000.
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