2010 arguably was a breakout year for consumer privacy in the U.S., but the year also brought about significant changes to the legal landscape of employee privacy. Federal and state court decisions, state legislation and agency actions suggest that the U.S. may be moving towards a greater level of privacy protection for employees. Employers are well-advised to consider these developments in reviewing and revising policies that affect the privacy of their employees.
The United States Supreme Court issued its decision today in City of Ontario, California v. Quon, ruling that a public employer's examination of an employee's personal text messages on a government-issued pager did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court remarked that a review of messages on an employer-provided device would similarly be regarded as "reasonable and normal in the private-employer context."
My former colleague and friend Nolan Goldberg has written this nice piece on "Securing Communications in the Cloud" regarding the Central District of Illinois decision in US v. Weaver (yet another child pornography case contributing to the development of information law). Nolan points out the Weaver court's focus on the unique nature of web (or cloud)-based email services. With webmail, a copy stored by the host in the cloud, in this case Microsoft Hotmail, might be the only copy, not just a backup. Therefore, the logic goes under the Stored Communications Act, the emails sought by the government in Weaver were not in electronic storage and the government only needed a trial subpoena, not a warrant.