31 January, 2007

Is your work computer private?

From Wired

Uuhhh ... NO!

First of all it isn't "your" computer. It belongs to the company unless you bought it with your own money. Even if you did buy it with your own money you probably signed away (or clicked away) your privacy before you logged onto the network.

Look I am a huge Internet privacy advocate and I can't stand the stupid things that are happening to privacy on the net out there but the fact is that there is no privacy on a work machine. Even within my company I fight for some level of non interference and discretion of observation of the network uses but it is a given that the owner of the hardware also has almost total access rights to the data on it unless specifically identified otherwise. They also have an obligation to protect themselves from liability and to investigate and report possible felony's if they are made aware of them. This isn't like a lot of the other Internet privacy arguments. What the RIAA and MPAA are doing is at least unethical and in some cases probably illegal but this isn't even the same argument. This was a work machine and it was being used in an illegal act.

This isn't a "Dangerous" precedent. That is stupid. That employer has a legal obligation to protect themselves from liability. Lets go a step further - they have a legal and moral obligation to report the child porn if it was found even if the FBI hadn't asked for it.

If you want privacy on a work machine then find a job at a company that makes that their priority. Some of them are out there. If they choose to accept the liability risk and clearly communicate that then more power to them but then if they become aware of a possible crime and do nothing about it then they should be prosecuted as well. I would consider it despicable for them 9or any court) to help someone by using a rule like that to protect some pervert.

I love Wired but I am pretty irritated at the spin they gave this article. This isn't a privacy rights issue. If anything what is at issue is the rights of an organization to protect themselves from a felon of an employee. To present it as a privacy rights issue dilutes the legitimate privacy rights arguments by associating them with faulty logic and moral filth.

Grow up guys.

Update:

A good Comment by Scott:

I think you have misunderstood the "rights issue" that Wired points to. The concern is not whether your employer has a right to monitor your computer usage on a work computer, but whether the police have a right to search your work computer without a warrant. The Ninth Circuit's original ruling stated that since the employee in question had no expectation of privacy on a work computer, the FBI had a right to search it with or without a warrant. Surely you can see the privacy rights concerns present for both employer and employee if such a ruling were maintained.

My Response:

In short they do have the right to search your work computer if the employer lets them. Saying that the decision protects the employer is disingenuous.

In the case the police (FBI actually) asked the company to provide access to the computer. If the company had chosen to say "no we want a warrant" then that was their right. Instead they choose to say fine here is the computer. (as they should unless prevented by their own policies) They key here is that (as far as I read) the employer never asked for a warrant. It was their choice and right whether to ask for one or not.

Their choice should not be used to protect an individual who was using their property for a felony.

Let me put it this way.

If I had a store and a cop walked up to me and said "I think that Joe your janitor is storing drugs in your stores bathroom can I look?" I then have a choice. Do I ask the cop to present a warrant (and possibly implicate myself in Joe's drug use) or just say sure go ahead and look.

That is a decision for me to make and not some court. By implying that there is an expectation of protection of privacy the real precedence for the reversal of the decision is that the employers need to be asking for warrants anytime the issue might come up.

More importantly anytime law enforcement wants access to anything instead of starting by the least intrusive method and just asking they have to immediately get a warrant.That is simply wrong and places a new and prohibitive burden on both the employer and authorities.

It should be the employers choice as to whether they ask for a warrant or not. They own the system and they own the data.

This decision dilutes the property rights of the employer.

Tell me where I am wrong. If I am wrong on the details of the case then my argument falls.

2 comments:

Scott said...

I think you have misunderstood the "rights issue" that Wired points to. The concern is not whether your employer has a right to monitor your computer usage on a work computer, but whether the police have a right to search your work computer without a warrant. The Ninth Circuit's original ruling stated that since the employee in question had no expectation of privacy on a work computer, the FBI had a right to search it with or without a warrant. Surely you can see the privacy rights concerns present for both employer and employee if such a ruling were maintained.

Jim C said...

I understood it. In the case the police (FBI actually) asked the company to provide access to the computer. If the company had chosen to say "no we want a warrant" then that was their right. Instead they choose to say fine here is the computer. (as they should unless prevented by their own policies)

They key here is that (as far as I read) the employer never asked for a warrant. It was their choice and right whether to ask for one or not. Their choice should not be used to protect an individual who was using their property for a felony.

Let me put it this way. If I had a store and a cop walked up to me and said "I think that Joe your janitor is storing drugs in your stores bathroom can I look?" I then have a choice. Do I ask the cop to present a warrant (and possibly implicate myself in Joe's drug use) or just say sure go ahead and look. That is a decision for me to make and not some court. By implying that there is an expectation of protection of privacy the real precedence for the reversal of the decision is that the employers need to be asking for warrants anytime the issue might come up. More importantly anytime law enforcement wants access to anything instead of starting by the least intrusive method and just asking they have to immeadiately get a warrant.

That is simply wrong and places a new and prohibitive burden on both the employer and authorities. It should be the employers choice as to wether they ask for a warrant or not.