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.
What does workplace privacy have to do with the cloud? Everything. On Tuesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its opinion in Stengart v. LovingCare Agency, Inc., --- A.2d ----, 2010 WL 1189458 (N.J. March 30, 2010), and came out on the side of protecting employee privacy and the attorney-client privilege in personal Yahoo! webmail (a cloud service) even though the employee used a company computer. While everyone has been busy writing about the implications of LovingCare for company policies governing employee expectations of privacy (and for good reason), few have stopped to note that LovingCare is a cloud case. LovingCare is one of only a few published opinions addressing the difficult issues surrounding employee use of webmail and other cloud services on company computers where the attorney-client privilege is at stake, and the impact of the LovingCare decision will undoubtedly be felt for years to come by nearly every employer across the country, both in crafting policies for employee use of company computer systems and in conducting discovery in nearly every employment-related litigation. The machine may be the employer's, but, in the post-LovingCare world, the data may be the employee's - at least where the cloud and the attorney-client privilege are involved. You can read my detailed case analysis in this post.