IS YOUR BOSS READING YOUR E-MAIL?
PRIVACY LAW IN THE AGE OF THE "ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP"
Laurie Thomas Lee, Ph.D
Department of Broadcasting
College of Journalism and Mass Communications
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE 68588-0131
[log in to unmask]
Paper presented to the Communication Technology and Policy division of
the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications,
August 13, 1994.
~Copyright 1994 by Laurie Thomas Lee
IS YOUR BOSS READING YOUR E-MAIL?
PRIVACY LAW IN THE AGE OF THE "ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP"
Do employers have the right to look at an employee's E-mail
messages? Do employees have a right to privacy that bars corporate
snooping? This paper addresses this new workplace privacy issue and
examines the legality of employee E-mail monitoring. Federal and state
constitutional provisions, statutory law, and common law are examined,
with the law found to primarily favor the employer. Bills pending in
Congress are discussed, and suggestions for balancing interests are
IS YOUR BOSS READING YOUR E-MAIL?
PRIVACY LAW IN THE AGE OF THE "ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP"
I. E-MAIL MONITORING................................................ 2
The Debate....................................................... 6
II. E-MAIL PRIVACY RIGHTS UNDER THE CONSTITUTION................... 10
The U.S. Constitution........................................... 10
State Constitutions............................................. 15
III. FEDERAL AND STATE STATUTORY LAW--E-MAIL WIRETAPPING........... 17
Federal Statutes................................................ 17
1. Interstate Systems......................................... 19
2. Prior Consent Exception.................................... 20
3. Business Use Exemption..................................... 23
State Statutes.................................................. 28
IV. COMMON LAW AND E-MAIL INTRUSION................................ 31
V. PROPOSED LEGISLATION............................................ 41
VI. CONCLUSIONS.................................................... 44
Proposed Guidelines............................................. 48
State Constitutions Explicitly Recognizing A Privacy Right......... 52
States With Prior Consent and Business Use Wiretap Exemptions...... 53
IS YOUR BOSS READING YOUR E-MAIL?
PRIVACY LAW IN THE AGE OF THE "ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP"
Employee privacy is considered to be the most significant workplace
issue facing companies today. A recent survey of American businesses
by MacWorld magazine suggests that some 20 million Americans may be
subject to some type of electronic monitoring through their computers on
the job. Employer access to what employees thought were private
electronic mail (E-mail) files is especially raising eyebrows. The same
study reveals that of those companies that engage in electronic
monitoring practices, over 40 percent have searched employee E-mail
files. This is particularly troubling when less than one-third of all
admitted electronic surveillers say they ever warn employees, and only
18 percent of companies even have a written policy on electronic
E-mail is considered to be the fastest growing form of electronic
communication in the workplace, but the laws addressing employee privacy
rights with respect to E-mail are unclear. Little research has been done
on the legality of E-mail monitoring. Do employers have the right to
look at an employee's E-mail messages? Do employees have a right to
privacy that bars corporate snooping?
This paper examines the privacy debate and the legality of E-mail
monitoring in the workplace. Several bills are now pending in Congress
that are intended to either limit employer access or permit workplace
monitoring. This paper examines the existing federal and state
constitutional provisions, statutory law, and the common law as they
currently pertain to employee privacy rights and E-mail. It then
examines the proposed federal legislation and suggests some guidelines
for balancing employee privacy and corporate monitoring needs.
I. E-MAIL MONITORING
With an estimated 40 million E-mail users expected to be sending 60
billion messages by the year 2,000, it is no wonder that corporate
America is closely watching to see how the courts and Congress will
handle the E-mail monitoring issues. Electronic mail has become an
indispensable tool that has revolutionized the workplace. More workers
are able to communicate everything from simple memos to complex business
plans to colleagues and clients across the hall or around the world in a
matter of seconds. Companies and employees alike recognize the benefits
of a technology that has the power to speed communication and improve
productivity and efficiency. At a time of fierce international
competition, few employers can afford to pass up any opportunities E-mail
Yet the accessibility of corporate-owned electronic mail systems
also presents a compelling new opportunity for company executives to
"sneak a peak" at intracompany and intercompany communications in order
to monitor employees and maintain control over the workplace. E-mail
messages can easily be intercepted and read by not only system managers
and operators, but by anyone with a working knowledge of and access to
the corporate network. In some cases, corporate executives may simply
"ask" network administrators to present them with an employee's E-mail
files. In general, administrators will often monitor the message
traffic and store E-mail as a permanent electronic record--and in some
cases make and store printed copies. Of course, messages are also
vulnerable if employees are not given passwords to log into their mail,
simply stay logged-in when they are away from their computers, or
inadvertently route their messages to unintended recipients. While
some encryption technology is available or being developed for E-mail
systems, few companies may use it because of cost and efficiency
factors. Some type of E-mail security is desperately needed.
Some employees are already finding this out the hard way. In what
is believed to be the first publicly known E-mail case from 1990, an E-
mail administrator for Epson America, Inc., discovered a supervisor
reading all employee E-mail originating from outside the company. Alana
Shoars had been told to reassure some 700 Epson employees that their E-
mail would be private. When she complained about the monitoring, she was
fired. In another case, two system administrators of the California-
based Nissan subsidiary's E-mail network were fired after filing a
grievance alleging that their privacy had been invaded when their boss
read their E-mail and had subsequently fired them. Perhaps the most
notorious case of E-mail insecurity involved Oliver North and John
Poindexter who were communicating through E-mail in the system at the
National Security Council. Although they thought they had sufficiently
deleted their messages, back-up tapes had been made and were allowed as
evidence for use by prosecutors in the Iran-Contra investigation. A
more recent civil suit that is still pending may have serious
implications for anyone who uses E-mail at work. In 1992, a former
Borland International Vice President defected to a rival computer
software maker, but not before allegedly forwarding trade secrets via
Borland's MCI Mail. Borland executives obtained his password and
discovered the messages which it intended to use as evidence against the
former employee. However, because MCI Mail was used as opposed to an
intracompany E-mail system, a different legal analysis may come into
Legislation now before Congress addresses some of the issues of
electronic monitoring in the workplace, including E-mail, but not
everyone is backing the measures. Proponents of stricter controls,
including union leaders and advocacy groups, argue that without some
reasonable controls, the nation runs the risk of turning workplaces into
what are being coined as "electronic sweatshops"--where constant
monitoring freely occurs. Yet virtually every business lobbying group
in Washington is lining up against proposed legislation that would
curtail their ability to monitor the workplace.
Historically, employers have always monitored their workers'
performance--observing production lines, counting sales orders, and
simply looking over an employee's shoulder. Encroachment on employee
privacy has strong traditions, from the advent of the industrial age and
production line monitoring on through to employee psychological testing
and more recently drug screening. But today the product of more
businesses is service and information, which requires a different type of
monitoring approach. Plus, new technologies have ushered in more ways to
overhear, watch, or read just about anything in the workplace--
There are concerns that these new forms of monitoring are
diminishing the privacy rights of millions of workers, and it is feared
that the workplace monitoring problem will only be exacerbated by even
newer technologies being developed. Proponents of legislation to limit
electronic monitoring argue that the need for employee privacy protection
is now. They point to the recent MacWorld survey and other studies
that reveal an alarming amount of electronic surveillance of workers--
much of it done surreptitiously. They argue that employees are entitled
to human dignity and should not have to leave their right of privacy
behind them when they go through the office door. Moreover, people
should be able to assume their mail is private, whether they are sending
it via the Postal Service or an electronic method. There are fears of
abuse by employers reading E-mail for nonlegitimate reasons such as
voyeurism and paranoia. In addition, studies show that employee
surveillance in general takes its toll on workers and companies in terms
of stress, fatigue, apprehension, motivation, morale, and trust,
resulting in increased absenteeism, turnover, poorer management, and
lower productivity, not to mention higher health-care costs.
On the other hand, the corporate world argues that they need to
reserve the right to electronically monitor job performance and work-
related activities in order to investigate and prevent theft, fraud,
insider trading, drug dealing, and other illegal conduct, as well as to
assure productivity, efficiency, and quality control. Employers use
monitoring for such purposes as evaluating employees and ensuring that
customer and client relations are handled properly. Critics of
legislation restricting employer access argue that what takes place on
company premises over company phones and E-mail networks belongs to the
company which has a right to access the work product for which it is
paying. They contend that employers have a legitimate right to a fair
day's work and to be able to ensure that work is accomplished by being
able to keep track of personal use of company equipment and other abuse.
Warning employees of when they will be monitored defeats the purpose.
Moreover, they argue that limiting access would mean that employers might
not be able to access an employee's E-mail in emergency situations.
Unless adequate legislation is passed, workers subjected to E-mail
searches will have to turn to the existing laws for possible recourse.
These laws are virtually untested as they pertain to employee E-mail and
privacy rights. The following sections explore what federal and state
constitutional and statutory provisions might apply to employee E-mail
monitoring and examine the existing tort law remedies.
II. E-MAIL PRIVACY RIGHTS UNDER THE CONSTITUTION
The U.S. Constitution
An examination of the highest source of law reveals that
constitutional privacy rights, as they might pertain to employees, are
very limited in scope. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
provides that the "right of people to be secure in their persons, houses,
papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not
be violated . . ." Most states also have a similar constitutional
provision that provides similar protection. Yet the U.S. Constitution
(and most state constitutions) only prohibit searches and seizures by
the government and not by the private sector. Thus in an employment
context, only government employees may claim a constitutional privacy
right should their E-mail be accessed; nongovernment employees have no
constitutional guarantee of privacy in the workplace, unless infringed by
a government search or seizure.
While privacy protection afforded to public employees is beyond the
scope of this paper, it is nonetheless instructive to briefly examine and
compare the scope of these rights and the analysis used. For government
employees (or employees subject to E-mail searches by the government)
these rights are limited and may not be upheld. So far no case law
specifically addresses a constitutional right of privacy related to E-
mail, so courts may rely on precedents associated with similar types of
electronic surveillance--such as the monitoring or recording of telephone
communications. Here, the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have
generally ruled in favor of the government "infringers."
In the landmark privacy case Katz v. U.S., and the subsequent case
Smith v. Maryland, the Supreme Court upheld the actions of government
agencies that engaged in a type of telephone monitoring without
warrants. The High Court relied on a two-part test it had developed
that essentially determines whether the plaintiff exhibited a reasonable
"expectation of privacy." Whether an "expectation of privacy" exists
(and thus whether a plaintiff's suit might be successful) depends on a
number of factors such as the private nature of the information involved
and whether the individual had "knowingly exposed" the information. In
Smith, the Court determined that the plaintiff had no expectation of
privacy when a pen register employed by a telephone company at police
request had recorded the telephone numbers he had dialed from his home.
The Court stated that "[a]ll subscribers realize . . . that the phone
company has facilities for making permanent records of the numbers they
dial . . . ." The Court also concluded that an expectation of
privacy in this case would not be reasonable because Smith had
"voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company and
'exposed' that information to its equipment in the ordinary course of
Applying the Smith standard to E-mail suggests that an employee's
privacy interest in E-mail messages would likewise fail the "expectation
of privacy" test since most users probably realize that a system
administrator could have access to their E-mail accounts. Although most
users assume that the administrator will not examine their mail, they
have nonetheless "voluntarily conveyed" the information. Moreover, if
government employers have a publicized policy on this type of electronic
monitoring, then the employee has generally assumed the risk that his or
her messages will be searched. In fact, courts have recently held that
a publicized monitoring policy reduces an employee's expectation of
privacy as to the contents of his desk or locker. It should also
be noted that private sector employees would likewise fail the
expectation of privacy test and be vulnerable to E-mail searches by the
government. Moreover, if the government (i.e., the police, F.B.I., etc.)
is voluntarily offered the contents of any public or private sector
employee's E-mail file by a third party (i.e., a co-worker), then a
constitutional right is not invoked.
Even if the courts find a reasonable expectation of privacy in
electronic mail, then the reasonableness of a particular search or
seizure would then be analyzed. This analysis requires a balancing of
the nature of the intrusion against the importance of the government
interests justifying the intrusion. In one of the few cases where the
Supreme Court has considered public employees' privacy interests, the
High Court found that a public employee has a reasonable expectation of
privacy in his office desk and file cabinets. In fact, the Court
noted that "not everything that passes through the confines of the
business address can be considered part of the workplace context."
But the Court also noted that the reasonableness of a "search" requires
balancing the privacy interest against the government's need for
supervision, control, and efficiency as an employer. A government search
may be considered reasonable if there are reasonable grounds for
suspecting that the search will reveal worker misconduct, and the search
was limited to accomplishing the underlying objectives. Thus, a decision
rendered in a case involving E-mail may turn on an assessment of the
reasonableness of the search and a balancing of the interests and needs.
In general, courts have tended to find that an employer's needs outweigh
the employee's privacy interest, and in subsequent employee search cases,
the High Court has found the government's interest to prevail. Thus
in applying the same criteria and balancing test to E-mail, the courts
may find no constitutional privacy rights infringed.
Like the U.S. Constitution, most state constitutions will only
protect privacy rights belonging to government employees or others
subject to government monitoring. While most states contain
provisions similar to the Fourth Amendment, a few state constitutions do
recognize an explicit right to privacy. (See Table 1) However, only one
state, California, has generally provided a constitutional privacy right
that can be invoked by employees subject to private sector searches.
Still, New Jersey recently recognized a state constitutional right of
privacy which may be applied to the private sector workplace.
Moreover, the Alaska Supreme Court, while finding that its respective
constitutional privacy provision does not apply to private actors,
nonetheless recently noted that its constitutional provision might form
the basis for a "public policy supporting privacy." Thus, a trend
toward more constitutional privacy protections for private sector
employees may be emerging.
In California, the courts have held that the right to privacy in the
state constitution applies with equal force to those in both the private
and public sector. The courts have generally held that the state
constitution prohibits all incursions into individual privacy unless
justified by a "compelling interest." As with the Supreme Court, there
is no clear answer as to how a California court will decide an E-mail
privacy claim without first knowing the employer's justification for the
search. It should also be noted that California law does not extend to
California companies and employees if the search or seizure by the
employer occurs out of state. It will be instructive, however, to
analyze the state's reactions to the few E-mail privacy cases which are
still pending--since all of these cases happen to reside in
III. FEDERAL AND STATE STATUTORY LAW--E-MAIL WIRETAPPING
Both private and public employees may turn to current federal and
state statutory law to contest an employer's "right" to E-mail
monitoring, but may again find little relief. The key federal law to
date in this area is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
(ECPA), which bars the interception of electronic communications.
The Act would seem to protect workers from many types of electronic
monitoring including E-mail interceptions, but it is not explicit when it
comes to the workplace, and it contains some exceptions that courts may
determine exclude employee protection.
Congress adopted the ECPA in 1986 as an amendment to Title III of
the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, commonly
known as the federal wiretapping statute. The intention was to update
the law's language to encompass new technologies and to expand its
scope to include the interception of electronic communications and
stored electronic communications, such as between computers or between a
computer and a human. In fact, the ECPA was also intended to include
coverage of private communication systems such as intracompany
The ECPA does not directly mention electronic mail, but it is
included within the scope of the Act's general protections. The ECPA
forbids, for example, the interception of electronic communications,
which, according to the legislative history, includes electronic
mail. The Act further defines an "electronic communication service"
as one that provides to users the "ability to send or receive wire or
electronic communications," which is intended to include electronic
mail companies. The ECPA also comprises the Stored Wire and
Electronic Communications and Transactional Records Access Act, which
establishes broad prohibitions on accessing and disclosing
The ECPA has several exceptions, however, that may limit its
protection of employee E-mail:
1. Interstate Systems
In the first place, the ECPA may only protect messages sent over
public networks such as MCI Mail, Internet, Prodigy, or CompuServe. This
is because the definition of "electronic communications" under the
statute only pertains to such communication that "affects interstate or
foreign commerce." Internal E-mail systems may not be covered by the
Act. Although Congress did intend for the Act to include intracompany
networks, it confined this broader coverage to "wire communication," and
Congress has specified that "wire communication" includes some element of
the human voice. Thus, a company PBX (and hence voice mail) may be
covered, but not an intracompany E-mail system--unless that system
crosses state lines or perhaps connects to an interstate network. The
Act is not at all clear on this point, however, and thus court
interpretation will be needed.
2. Prior Consent Exception
The Act also allows the interception of electronic communications
where "one of the parties to the communication has given prior
consent." Unless other parties with whom an employee is
communicating allow the employer access to the messages, then the
employee would appear protected--assuming he or she did not give consent.
But the analysis may then turn on whether or not some aspect of the
employer-employee relationship might be construed to suggest that implied
consent was given. Courts have found that consent may be inferred from
"surrounding circumstances indicating that the [parties] agreed to the
The courts do not construe the meaning of implied consent broadly,
however. In Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., an appeals court determined
that a telemarketing employee's knowledge of her employer's capability of
monitoring her private telephone conversations could not be considered
implied consent to such monitoring. Yet the court in this case did
find that Watkins had consented to a company policy of monitoring
business calls that could include the unintentional interception of a
personal call for a limited time. The court stated that the prior
consent exception (of then Title III) does not give employers carte
blanche monitoring rights, but can be used to justify monitoring business
calls including the momentary interception of a personal call until the
personal nature is established. Thus, monitoring of business
communications and the inadvertent monitoring of personal communications
could be allowed if an employer has a written policy addressing E-mail
monitoring. In this case, employees using the system would be considered
to have given implied consent.
Yet it should be noted that implied consent would not be found if
the monitoring exceeded the terms of the company's policy. In other
words, if the monitoring policy was designed to survey only the extent of
E-mail use in the company, for example, then uncovering a breach of trade
secrets may be beyond the scope of implied consent. Moreover, implied
consent would not be found if an employer only suggests to the employees
that monitoring may be done. This was the case in a recent telephone
case where, from a telephone extension, owners of a liquor store tape
recorded conversations of an employee suspected in an unsolved burglary
of the store. In Deal v. Spears, Newell Spears advised his employee-
-who had been making numerous personal telephone calls--that he might be
forced to monitor her calls if abuse of the store's telephone for
personal calls continued. The court held that the employee's consent
was not implied because she was not informed that she was being
monitored, only that "they might do so in order to cut down on personal
calls." Other courts also find no implied consent where defendants
argue that a plaintiff simply "should have known" that he or she was
being monitored. Thus, the legality of E-mail monitoring under the
prior consent exception may depend on the specificity and clarity of the
company's monitoring policy.
3. Business Use Exemption
Perhaps more troubling for employees are provisions that--regardless
of prior consent--might exclude from coverage certain types of
interceptions made in the "ordinary course of business." There are two
key provisions of the ECPA that address this type of exception. One
provision has been relied on in telephone extension monitoring cases,
but may not pertain to E-mail monitoring unless telephone equipment or
facilities are specifically involved. This provision essentially permits
interceptions where telephone or telegraph equipment are used in the
ordinary course of business. Yet courts may not consider a network
manager's modem, computer, or software program to be telephone or
telegraph equipment, and the leasing of telephone lines may not
necessarily qualify under this exemption. Even in telephone extension
cases, the telephone equipment distinction has been construed
Still, employers may turn to another ECPA "business use" exception
that does not specify the type of equipment, but rather allows certain
interceptions by electronic communication service providers or their
"agents." Section 2511(2)(a)(i) provides that
[i]t shall not be unlawful under this chapter for an officer, employee,
or agent of a provider of wire or electronic communication service,
whose facilities are used in the transmission of a wire communication,
to intercept, disclose, or use that communication in the normal course
of his employment while engaged in any activity which is a necessary
incident to the rendition of his service or to the protection of the
rights or property of the provider of that service . . . . (18 U.S.C
The term "provider" would likely include public E-mail networks, such as
Prodigy and CompuServe, and the term "agent" may or may not be defined to
include employers who subscribe to or use their E-mail service.
Companies with their own E-mail systems on their own wide area
(interstate) networks could also fall under this exception as electronic
communication service providers.
It is the second element of both ECPA provisions--the "business use"
exception--which may then be interpreted to give employers fairly broad
authority to intercept and monitor E-mail messages. Of course, the law
would require employers and public E-mail providers to demonstrate that
a particular interception was done in the ordinary course of business--
such as the rendering of service maintenance. In fact, under section
2511(2)(a)(i), service providers or employers would need to prove that
the monitoring was necessary to render service or to protect their rights
or property. Still, the courts may find that this includes such reasons
as the need to prevent abuses of the system such as computer crime,
maintain the system, or detect personal use of the system if it is
In cases involving telephone extension monitoring, the courts have
been fairly liberal in their interpretation of the business use
exception. In James v. Newspaper Agency Corp., the court held that
a newspaper's telephone monitoring program of its telemarketing employees
was squarely within the business (telephone) extension exemption because
it was conducted for a "legitimate business purpose" designed to help
employees deal with the public effectively. In Briggs v. American Air
Filter Co., where a supervisor monitored a business call where an
employee divulged trade secrets to a competitor, the court held that the
monitoring was within the ordinary course of business.
Some courts have nonetheless limited the business use exemption
according to the scope of the intrusion and the nature of the
communication. For example, in Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., where
the interception was of a personal call, the court followed Briggs, but
said it would only allow the unintentional interception of a personal
call and for only a limited time until the personal nature of the call is
established. In Deal v. Spears, the court found that the
employer had exceeded the scope of the exemption by having listened to
all 22 hours of his employee's tape recorded personal calls. Even though
the court agreed that the employer had a "legitimate business reason" for
listening (i.e., employee's suspected burglary involvement and abuse of
phone privileges), the court agreed with Watkins in concluding that the
employer might have legitimately monitored the calls only to the extent
necessary to determine that they were personal and in violation of store
Thus if the courts analogize E-mail interceptions to telephone
extension monitoring, employers may be able to prove a legitimate
business reason for the monitoring, provided that the monitoring does not
include reading personal E-mail in its entirety. Of course, personal E-
mail would still be vulnerable to some degree of observation, and unless
the contents of the messages are divulged or clearly acted upon, it may
be difficult to prove that intercepted personal messages were completely
read. Even Congress acknowledges that computer monitoring may be more
difficult to limit than telephone conversations..
In addition to the prohibitions on interception, it should also be
noted that the ECPA further prohibits the intentional disclosure of the
contents of an electronic communication obtained through an illegal
interception. This would include any information concerning the
"substance, purport, or meaning" of the communication. In Deal v.
Spears, where one of the liquor store owners had disclosed only the
general nature of the taped contents to the plaintiffs' spouses, the
disclosure fell within the statute's purview. Thus, if an employee
is successful in showing that an E-mail interception was in violation of
the Act, he or she may also then recover damages if the employer
showed or even discussed the contents of a message with others.
Finally, for government employees and employees subject to
government interceptions of their E-mail, the ECPA does provide greater
relief by requiring that a warrant be issued first. If a warrant is
issued, however, providers would be required to disclose the contents of
an electronic communication in electronic storage. Not all personal
communications beyond the application of the search warrant may be
"seized" and read, however. This was recently tested in a March 1993
case where a judge ruled that Secret Service agents had indeed violated
the ECPA when they read (and destroyed) additional stored electronic
messages--including personal E-mail--on computers they had seized with a
Most states also have statutes that limit the interception of
electronic communications, and states are also free to enact laws that
are more restrictive and thus provide even greater privacy protections
than the federal law. Unless a conflict between the laws exists, the
state law will prevail.
Many states have laws that, in fact, incorporate the provisions of
the ECPA, including the "prior consent" and "business use" exceptions.
(See Table 2) Yet several states also require the prior consent of "all
parties" (see Table 2), which could severely limit employee E-mail
monitoring if the consent of the party with whom an employee is
communicating must also give his or her consent. Many states also
only exempt communications common carriers under their business use
exemptions, rather than "electronic communication service" providers.
(See Table 2) The term "common carrier" could arguably preclude from
these exemptions any service providers such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and
value-added carriers that are not identified and regulated as "common
carriers." In this sense, employees in a few states may find
greater protection from monitoring under state law.
Yet in other states there are no similar wiretap provisions that may
protect employees, and in one state--Nebraska--employers are
specifically exempted under that state's wiretapping provision.
Nebraska, which supports many telemarketing firms and has a fairly
liberal telecommunications regulatory environment, permits "an employer
on his, her, or its business premises . . . to intercept, disclose, or
use" an electronic communication while "in the normal course of his, her,
or its employment . . . ." The law limits the monitoring, but
does permit the monitoring for "performance control checks as long as
reasonable notice of the policy of random monitoring is provided to their
A few states have considered stricter laws that would specifically
constrain the monitoring practices of private sector employees,
although many of these measures have generally been defeated by corporate
lobbyists. Texas proposed a law that did not pass which would have
protected privacy by prohibiting secret electronic surveillance and
unreasonable searches, and by preventing employers from obtaining
unnecessary private information about employees. California
recently passed a law to specifically prohibit telephone corporations
from monitoring or recording their employees' conversations, but the bill
was vetoed by the Governor. Other states have passed laws that
restrict surveillance, but do not necessarily protect E-mail or computer
One of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation currently being
proposed is in Massachusetts. Earlier bills did not pass or were
struck down as being overly broad, but a new bill has been
introduced in 1994. It essentially provides that employers may not
electronically monitor employees without giving written notice about the
monitoring, what data would be collected and how frequently, how the
results would be used, and how work standards would be established
through the monitoring. Georgia has also introduced legislation this
year to provide restrictions on electronic monitoring by employers,
and New York introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from
operating electronic monitoring and/or surveillance equipment for
observing "non-work related activities." No other bills addressing
electronic monitoring are currently pending in any other state. Thus so
far, private sector employees in most states may generally be left
unprotected under state law.
IV. COMMON LAW AND E-MAIL INTRUSION
In the absence of clear statutory or constitutional rights to E-mail
privacy, employees may be able to find relief in a common law cause of
action known generally as "invasion of privacy." This common law
cause of action has been fairly recently recognized by courts and
legislative bodies as a means of protecting against unwarranted
intrusions into one's affairs; essentially, one who invades the right of
privacy of another is subject to liability for the resulting harm to the
interests of the other. Some states recognize a common law right of
privacy which may protect private employees.
Of four generally recognized privacy torts, the specific tort
known as "intrusion into seclusion or private affairs" would be the most
applicable to the interests of E-mail users. This provides that "one who
intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or
seclusion of another or his or her private affairs or concerns, is
subject to liability to the other for invasion of his or her privacy, if
the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person."
This right of privacy would arguably include the right to be free from
unreasonable intrusions by employer searches.
Until 1979, however, few employees brought suits against their
employers. Since then, there has been a dramatic upsurge in
privacy litigation. In general, employee privacy suits under common
law have concerned such matters as drug testing and polygraph
testing, where the courts appear to be supportive of employers'
attempts to create a safe working environment. Other types of
employee privacy suits have concerned the photographing of
employees, where courts have generally allowed employers to
photograph their employees over the employees' objections when the
employer has shown a legitimate purpose for taking the pictures.
Although the courts do not specifically rule according to any list
of criteria, several factors have evolved for use in determining a common
law right against intrusion. Courts tend to consider 1) whether there
was an intentional intrusion; 2) the location and private nature of
the activity involved; 3) whether the intrusion was "highly
offensive to the reasonable person;" and 4) whether the infringer
had a legitimate purpose warranting the intrusion.
The first condition may not be difficult to meet, although it should
be noted that any unintentional access to an E-mail message by a system
administrator during system maintenance, for example, would certainly
defeat an employee's privacy claim. In terms of the location and private
nature involved, company lawyers may successfully argue that E-mail at
the work location is within the work context and should not be deemed
private as such. Moreover, an employee may have difficulty proving that
any private communication was actually read.
The last two factors that have been considered by courts present
greater difficulty for employees. For example, an employee would have to
convince the court that the employer's intrusion was "highly offensive"
to a reasonable person. Courts may not consider the accessing and
reading of employee E-mail to be "highly offensive," particularly if a
court finds that the employee had no expectation of privacy in his or her
E-mail. Yet the courts may compare the use of a personal computer
E-mail password to the use of a padlock on a locker, as in K-Mart
Corporation Store No. 7441 v. Trotti, where a Texas court found
that an employer unreasonably intruded on an employee's privacy when the
employee's co-workers searched her locker which was secured with her own
lock. The courts may also find an employee E-mail search to be
unreasonable if no advance notification was given, or a union official
was not present. Still, the courts may consider the offensiveness
of the intrusion in light of the legitimate purpose criterion. For
example, in Oliver v. Pacific N.W. Bell Tel. Co., the court found
that the "highly offensive" standard was not met where the employer
monitored telephone conversations for the purposes of evaluating
performance and whether or not an employee was disclosing documents to a
competitor. For this reason, a common law decision may ultimately
hinge on a finding of a legitimate business purpose. As with the ECPA
exceptions, an employer may easily satisfy this criterion by producing
reasons for the interceptions that a court may find persuasive--such as
the need to assess performance, protect against theft, search for
violations in disclosing trade secrets, obtain information in a
business emergency, or simply promote efficiency.
There are other factors that may also affect recovery, such as
whether or not the employee must show anguish and suffering as a result
of the privacy invasion. The courts may also consider whether or
not the employee consented (expressed or implied) to the
monitoring, and whether or not the search was in accordance with an
announced inspection policy. In addition, a decision may turn on
an analysis of common law privilege. Here, a court may find that within
the employer-employee relationship, certain communications constitute a
conditional privilege, possibly giving an employer justification in
examining E-mail messages as information that affects a sufficiently
important interest of the company. Courts have not expressly
adopted common law privileges in "intrusion upon seclusion" actions, but
such an analysis may occur.
Finally, in applying various criteria, the courts may specifically
analogize employee E-mail intrusions under common law to common law
actions associated with the opening of personal mail, eavesdropping, and
hidden tape recordings. Few cases appear to exist that address a
common law cause of action associated with privacy and the mail. Yet, in
Vernars v. Young, a tort law claim of invasion of privacy was
considered valid where a corporate officer opened and read a fellow
corporate employee's mail which was delivered to the corporation's office
and marked personal. This case suggested that a reasonable expectation
of privacy under common law may exist in one's mail. Other related
cases involving eavesdropping and recordings, however, reveal only little
relief for employees, since a legitimate business purpose often
prevails. The courts may nonetheless take into account whether or
not the intercepted communications were subsequently disclosed and
whether the employer instigated the action. In Beard v. Akzona,
Inc., for example, a secretary was fired after her husband, also an
employee, turned over to their employer telephone tape recordings of her
conversations with a fellow employee (with whom she was having an
affair). No invasion of privacy was established because the tapes were
not heard by anyone other than the employer's managerial staff, and the
employer did not instigate the deception. In this sense, a court may
find no invasion of privacy with E-mail if a network manager--on his or
her own initiative--turns E-mail files over to corporate management, and
the contents of the messages are not publicly disclosed.
To date, no court has considered whether E-mail interception
constitutes an unreasonable, offensive intrusion into the private affairs
of workers. What few cases exist concerning E-mail searches have
been brought under a suit of wrongful termination (resulting from the
employer having read the mail), ECPA violation, or passing
trade secrets, and have largely been thrown out, settled out of
court, or are still pending. Thus, while the courts have generally
tolerated the surveillance of employees--at least where a legitimate
business interest is found--how the courts will treat and balance
employer and employee interests relative to E-mail searches remains
V. PROPOSED LEGISLATION
Several bills have recently been introduced in Congress to address
E-mail and other forms of electronic monitoring of employees. The
complaints of workers from airline reservation agents, secretaries,
telephone operators, and a broad range of blue-collar America first
registered in Washington, D.C., a few years ago with similar proposed
legislation. But only recently have the bills caught the interest of
lawmakers and the White House.
The Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act, sponsored by Senator Paul
Simon (D-Ill.), and its companion bill in the House, were
originally drafted to prevent telephone companies and telemarketing firms
from monitoring the telephone calls of operators and telemarketers. They
were later revised to curb snooping on employees via video cameras. But
recent revisions expand the scope of the legislation to cover all kinds
of computer communications, including E-mail and voice mail.
The proposed law would limit monitoring in several ways, including
1) Employers would have to tell new employees how they might be
monitored and how the collected data would be used,
2) Employers would be required to give advance notice (day and
hour) that monitoring will take place (House version:
notice not required to specify day/hour),
3) The total time that an employee could be monitored would be
capped at two hours per week (House version: unlimited
during the first 60 days of employment, 40 times/month for
first two years, and 15 times/month thereafter), and
4) Periodic or random monitoring of long-term employees (over 5
years) would be prohibited (House version: continues at 15
The legislation also requires that notice be given to others
(nonemployees) who may also be monitored (which may pose interesting
difficulties in the case of E-mail addressees and senders). Employers
may only collect and review data limited to an employee's work, and
cannot intentionally engage in electronic monitoring of an employee
engaged in First Amendment rights. In addition, no action may be
taken by the employer based on any personal data that was illegally
obtained. The legislation also does not require advance notice if
an employer suspects the employee is engaged in unlawful activity,
willful gross misconduct, or conduct that would have a "significant
adverse effect" on the employer or other employees. It allows
employers to access information in case of "immediate business
needs." Finally, it provides exceptions for financial
institutions, securities firms, the intelligence community, and gambling
The proposed legislation has so far attracted many co-sponsors, but
has also spurred considerable debate. The Department of Labor, for
instance, has not been in favor of the legislation, partly because it
considers the bills to contain too many unclear terms and overly broad
definitions that pertain to management practices in which personal
employee data do not have relevance. Others consider the bills to be
unnecessarily burdensome for small businesses and difficult to interpret
and administer. The telephone companies, including AT&T, are
especially speaking out against the measure. There is concern about
the impact of the bills on E-mail management and usage. They argue that
the legislation could cripple the electronic messaging business. Thus
with such opposition, the legislation may not succeed in providing relief
for E-mail users just yet.
Another bill introduced in Congress that has not gained as much
attention but is still under consideration is the Telephone Privacy Act
of 1993, introduced by Senator Dale Bumpers (D-AR). This bill would
do essentially the opposite, making it lawful to intercept an electronic
communication where "such person is an employer or its agent engaged in
lawful electronic monitoring of its employees' communications made in the
course of the employees' duties." The bill has not advanced, but its
introduction indicates that the matter is still open to debate and may
not be easily settled.
Current law thus appears to generally favor employers when it comes
to E-mail monitoring in the workplace. Constitutional privacy rights
only pertain to government interceptions, and federal statutory law does
not appear to provide protection for interceptions within an intracompany
system. Prior consent and business use exemptions of federal and state
statutory laws may be construed to permit monitoring. State laws
specifically addressing the E-mail issue are lacking, and a common law
right of privacy may not be found to protect employee E-mail interests.
Unless the courts provide a precise interpretation of the existing law in
favor of employee privacy interests, or adequate legislation is passed,
employees may be at the mercy of employers who take an active role in
browsing through their E-mail. In fact, more employers may take
advantage of this "new" opportunity once they understand that it may not
Electronic mail presents a difficult case for lawmakers because it
falls somewhere between a telephone call and written correspondence.
Some business people may feel comfortable with an employer's right to
examine written material, but would not sanction listening in on phone
conversations. Yet case law generally permits telephone extension
monitoring, while mail is afforded greater privacy protection.
While both employers and employees have valid concerns about E-mail
privacy, striking a balance may not be easy.
The answer may exist in adopting a legislative solution, but only if
the law is carefully crafted and clearly applicable to E-mail and similar
electronic storage systems. States may act now by proposing laws aimed
at placing restrictions on monitoring. But because corporate
communications cross state lines, a federal policy should also be adopted
to provide uniform protections.
The Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act, currently pending in
Congress, addresses many of the concerns and uncertainties raised by the
existing laws. As with the rulings under common law, employers would
have to steer clear of communications that are not work-related and
could not act on any personal information that may be unintentionally
encountered. The legislation requires advance notice, yet does not
go so far as to prevent surreptitious monitoring to uncover suspected
misconduct. Finally, it provides protections that would apply to all
operations--whether intrastate or interstate--and generally does not
allow for any waivers (i.e., consent) by employees of their rights under
Unfortunately, the Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act may also be
too narrow in scope and may not adequately balance the needs of both
employers and employees. The specific restrictions that limit monitoring
to only new employees and to specified amounts of time or observations
(i.e., 40 times a month) are too inflexible and do not take into
account the type of business operation. For example, allowing
unrestricted monitoring of new employees (first 60 days) and no
monitoring of those beyond five years of employment may be too
specific, not accounting for special needs or the privacy rights of new
employees. Moreover, monitoring of all employees for more than two hours
per week may be justifiable and even necessary for polling and survey
research organizations and telemarketing firms--which are not exempted
under the legislation. Yet allowing college administrators the ability
to monitor untenured faculty E-mail for up to two hours per week would
hardly seem acceptable.
There is also no agreement so far between the House and Senate bills
as to whether or not employees must be given advance notice of a
company's monitoring in general, or whether the employees must be given
the exact days and hours when the monitoring will take place. Some
adequate compromise will need to be achieved on this point. Precise
notice may go too far in stripping employers of the ability to access
company computer files outside of specified monitoring periods. The
ability to manage and control safety, quality, and efficiency could be
negatively affected. Yet having only a general company policy with vague
monitoring procedures may go too far in allowing employers the ability to
monitor employee E-mail anytime. In either case, the employer's ability
to monitor is sanctioned by eliminating the surreptitious nature of the
monitoring (and hence the expectation of privacy) with less regard given
to the reasonableness of the intrusion and the particular needs or
Finally, the proposed legislation addressing "electronic monitoring"
does not cover interceptions of electronic communications as protected
under the ECPA. Thus, if the ECPA is held to be applicable to
employee E-mail actions, then the accessing and reading of E-mail files
may fall outside of the proposed legislation. Under the ECPA, the prior
consent or business use exemptions may pertain, and monitoring may be
found permissible--at least on an interstate basis.
Senator Bumpers' bill--the Telephone Privacy Act of 1993--also
goes too far in granting employers unlimited access, including access to
E-mail of a personal nature. While it can be argued that private,
personal discussions have no place in the office, this argument is
unrealistic. The legislation is overly broad, ignoring any privacy
rights or interests of employees.
A federal monitoring law with very specific provisions may never
fully meet the needs of employee privacy while preserving employer
management needs. The type of federal policy that should be adopted must
be flexible and aimed at preventing unreasonable intrusions relative to
varying types of business operations, organizational needs, and employee
privacy needs. It must also be broad so that it may clearly apply to all
forms of similar surveillance and be able to accommodate future
Such a broad federal policy could require that monitoring be
"reasonable," requiring employers to 1) have a "legitimate business
purpose" for engaging in monitoring, 2) use the least intrusive means
possible to achieve the business objective, 3) limit the access, use, and
disclosure to information reasonably meeting that objective, and 4)
provide reasonable notification of the monitoring and its use. Instead
of specifying 40 service observations per month, for example, the courts
could be the ultimate arbiters in defining the scope of "reasonableness"
relative to different types and degrees of intrusion for different
industries and as technologies and conditions change over time.
The federal law could then promote the education of employers and
employees on the issue and mandate the development of company monitoring
policies which could then provide the particular specificity that may be
needed, within the federal guidelines on reasonableness. It is
imperative that employers create a company policy that clearly spells out
monitoring practices and employee privacy specific to that company's
operation. Federal law could require a company's electronic monitoring
policy to accomplish several objectives, such as:
1) identify the acceptable reasons for surveillance and the
specific business purpose to be achieved.
2) explain what monitoring procedures may and may not be used.
3) contain limitations on what is collected and the use of the
information obtained, restricting it to its stated purpose and
4) provide for reasonable security measures to prevent
5) allow only limited, authorized access, defining authorization
and who may grant and be granted authorization.
6) make clear to employees that the security of their E-mail, for
example, is not guaranteed and that E-mail may not be protected
by privacy law.
7) establish employee usage guidelines, such as whether or not the
system may be used for nonbusiness (personal) exchanges, when
and to what extent.
8) provide for penalties for policy violations by employers and
9) be made available to all employees at the time of being hired
and periodically thereafter.
10) be periodically reviewed.
The restrictiveness of a company's E-mail policy will depend on the
specific work environment and the needs of both the company and the
employees. The "reasonableness" of the policy will be kept in check by
federal law as well as market forces, whereby too restrictive of a policy
may result in worker dissatisfaction, lower productivity, and unfilled
positions. E-mail administrators and network managers should review the
existing law and the proposed legislation with their corporate legal
departments. Of course the best policy that a company could adopt may be
to avoid monitoring E-mail systems at all, whether for the purpose of
uncovering wrong-doing or for even accessing files for what might
otherwise seem to be legitimate purposes.
In the meantime, employees should take an active role in becoming
more aware of the potential for monitoring and find out whether or not a
company E-mail monitoring policy exists. If none is available, employees
should demand that a policy be created, be involved in its creation, and
become familiar with its provisions. Notwithstanding, employees should
always be discreet and assume that there is no privacy with their E-mail.
In general, employees should protect themselves by limiting their use of
the system to matters of company operations, and as a rule, never send
anything that one would not send to a fax machine or on a postcard.
If both employers and employees take steps to protect themselves--
even from unintentional intrusions--and federal and corporate policies
are developed, some reasonable balance between privacy needs and
management needs may be reached. Right now, there is a significant gap
between employees' perceptions of E-mail privacy and the rights of
employers to monitor messages. Employees are either unaware of the
possibility of monitoring or believe it is illegal. Companies are also
lax in responding to the issue and in examining their management
monitoring practices. Given the rapid growth of electronic mail, it is
likely that more lawsuits will be filed over the issue of E-mail privacy.
Company monitoring policies, general public awareness, and a broad
federal law prohibiting unreasonable intrusions should be created to
address this new workplace issue.
State Constitutions Explicitly Recognizing A Privacy Right*
ALASKA CONST., Art 1, 22: "The right of the people to privacy is
recognized and shall not be infringed upon."
ARIZ. CONST., Art 2, 8: "No person shall be disturbed in his private
affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law."
CAL. CONST., Art. 1, 1: "All people are by nature free and independent
and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending
life and liberty, acquiring safety, happiness, and privacy."
FLA. CONST., Art 1, 23: "Every natural person has the right to be free
from governmental intrusion into his private life except as otherwise
HAWAII CONST., Art. 1, 6: "The right of the people to privacy is
recognized and shall not be infringed without the showing of a
compelling state interest. The legislature shall take affirmative
steps to implement this right."
ILL. CONST., Art. 1, 6: "The people shall have the right to be secure
in their persons, houses, papers and other possessions against
unreasonable searches, seizures, invasions of privacy or interceptions
of communications by eavesdropping devices or other means."
LA. CONST., Art. 1, 5: "[E]very person shall be secure in his person,
property, communications, houses, papers, and effects against
unreasonable searches, seizures, or invasions of privacy."
MONT. CONST., Art. 2, 10: "The right of individual privacy is essential
to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without
the showing of a compelling state interest."
S.C. CONST., Art 1, 10: "The right of the people to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable
searches and seizures and unreasonable invasions of privacy shall not
be violated . . . ."
WASH. CONST., Art. 1, 7: "No person shall be disturbed in his private
affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law."
States With Prior Consent and Business Use Wiretap Exemptions
Arizona A.R.S. @ 13-3012 (1993)
Colorado C.R.S. 18-9-305 (1993)
Delaware 11 Del. C. @ 1336 (1993)*
District Columbia D.C. Code @ 23-542 (1993)*
Florida Fla. Stat. 934.03 (1993)**
Georgia O.C.G.A. @ 16-11-66 (1993)***
Hawaii H.R.S. 803-42 (1993)
Idaho Idaho Code 18-6720; 18-6702 (1993)*
Iowa Iowa Code @ 808B.2 (1993)*
Kansas K.S.A. @ 22-2514; 21-4001 (1992)
Louisiana La. R.S. 15:1303 (1992)*
Maryland Md. COURTS AND JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS
Code Ann. 10-402 (1993)**
Minnesota Minn. Stat. 626A.02 (1993)
Mississippi Miss. Code Ann. @ 41-29-531 (1993)*
Missouri @ 542.402 R.S.Mo. (1992)*
Nebraska R.R.S. Neb. 86-702 (1992)
Nevada Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. @ 200.620 (1993)
New Hampshire RSA 570-B:3; 570-A:2 (1993)* **
New Jersey N.J. Stat. @ 2A:156A-4 (1993)*
New Mexico N.M. Stat. Ann. @ 30-12-1 (1993)*
North Dakota N.D. Cent. Code, @ 12.1-15-02 (1993)*
Ohio ORC Ann. @ 2933.52 (BALDWIN) (1994)*
Oklahoma 13 Okl. St. @ 176.4 (1994)*
Oregon ORS @ 165.543 (1991)
Pennsylvania 18 Pa.C.S. @ 5704 (1993)**
Rhode Island R.I. Gen. Laws. @ 11-35-21 (1993)*
Texas Tex. Penal Code @ 16.02 (1994)*
Utah Utah Code Ann. @ 77-23a-4 (1993)
Virginia Va. Code Ann. @ 19.2-62 (1993)
West Virginia W. Va. Code @ 62-1D-3 (1993)
Wisconsin Wis. Stat. @ 968.31 (1993)
Wyoming Wyo. Stat. @ 7-3-602 (1993)
Statutory provisions similar to Title 18 USCA 2511(2)(d) (Prior
Consent) and 2510(5)(a) and/or 2511(2)(a)(i) (Business Use) exemptions
of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA).
*Exempts interceptions by communications common carriers, rather than
electronic communication service providers.
**Prior Consent must be given by ALL parties.
***Prior Consent Exemption only.
1. At the American Civil Liberties Union, violations of privacy at the
workplace have become the largest category among its 50,000 complaints
received each year. Peter Blackman & Barbara Franklin, Blocking Big
Brother; Proposed Law Limits Employers' Right to Snoop, N.Y. L.J., Aug.
19, 1993, at 5.
2. Charles Piller, Bosses With X-Ray Eyes, MACWORLD, July 1993, at
188, 120. MacWorld conducted a survey of 301 businesses about employee
monitoring. More than 21 percent of the respondents indicated that they
have searched computer files, voice mail, E-mail, or other networking
communications. For companies of more than 1,000 employees, that figure
rises to 30 percent.
3. Id. at 123. An informal survey of top Silicon Valley companies by
the San Jose Mercury News also found a majority retain the right to
review E-mail, and no company said it would not read other people's E-
mail. E-mail Snoopers No Secret, REC., April 21, 1994, at DO2.
4. Id. at 122.
5. Id. at 120.
6. S. 984, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. S6122 (1993); and
H.R. 1900, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. E1077 (1993).
7. S. 311, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. S1390 (1993).
8. Scott Dean, E-Mail Forces Companies to Grapple With Privacy Issues,
CORP. LEGAL TIMES, Sept. 1993, at 11. Corporate E-mail has grown 83
percent among the Fortune 2000 firms between 1991 and 1993, and nine out
of ten locations employing over 1,000 workers in the U.S. now uses E-
mail. John Thackery, Electronic-Mail Boxes a Dumping Ground for
Meaningless Data, OTTAWA CITIZEN, May 28, 1994, at B4 (citing projections
by the Electronic Messaging Association).
9. For example, E-mail can be used to enhance a company's
effectiveness by facilitating the flow of communications among employees
at all levels, reducing "telephone tag," and resulting in a cost savings
from reduced paper and postage usage. James J. Cappel, Closing the E-
mail Privacy Gap; Employer Monitoring of Employee E-mail, J. SYS. MGMT.,
Dec. 1993, at 6. E-mail also allows users to send messages any day
(i.e., on weekends) and at any time of day (i.e., at 2 a.m.), does not
require the simultaneous presence of the recipient, and allows messages
to be sent to more than one recipient at a time.
10. See Pillar, supra note . MacWorld examined some E-mail products
for their ability to be invaded.
11. Doug vanKirk, IS Managers Balance Privacy Rights and Risks;
Proactive Companies are Establishing Clear Guidelines and Informing
Employees, INFOWORLD, Nov. 29, 1993, at 65.
12. This is what happened in 1990 when the Mayor of Colorado Springs,
Colorado, admitted he had been reading the electronic mail that city
council members had sent to one another. An E-mail policy had required
that messages be printed periodically and be deleted to save space on the
city computer. The printouts were kept in case any messages were deemed
covered by the state's public-records law. Don J. DeBenedictis, E-Mail
Snoops, A.B.A. J., Sept. 1990, at 26.
13. The ease of replying to E-mail messages and sending messages to
many people on a "whim" (as compared to sending ordinary letters) can
also exacerbate the monitoring problem in terms of what may be
communicated and regrettably read. A notorious example is that of
Officer Lawrence Powell who, after the beating of Rodney King, broadcast
an E-mail message over the Los Angeles Police Department system saying,
"Oops, I haven't beaten anyone so bad in a long time." John K. Keitt,
Jr. & Cynthia L. Kahn, Cyberspace Snooping, LEGAL TIMES, May 2, 1994, at
14. See, e.g., Reuven M. Lerner, Protecting E-mail, TECH. REV., Sept.
1992, at 11, which discusses the use of public-key cryptosystems which
grant the receiver of any E-mail sole access to its contents. See also
Stephen T. Kent, Internet Privacy Enhanced Mail: Development of Security
Standards for Internet Computer Network, COMM. ACM, Aug. 1993, at 48.
15. Dean, supra note .
16. E-mail security technology is lagging behind, yet software makers
are reportedly hesitant to develop encryption programs because the
Clinton administration may soon require them to use "backdoors"--i.e.,
with the "Clipper Chip"--that would allow authorized federal agencies
like the F.B.I. to break the code and retrieve messages. (See, e.g.,
Winn Schwartau, Crypto Policy and Business Privacy: The Clinton
Administration's Proposed Clipper Chip Workplace Privacy, PC WEEK, June
28, 1993, at 207.)
17. Lynn Schwebach, Reconciling Electronic Privacy Rights in the
Workplace, PCTODAY, Jan. 1992, at 38; Nicole Casarez, Electronic Mail and
Employee Relations: Why Privacy Must Be Considered, PUB. REL. Q., Summer
1992, at 37; Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Electronic Mail Raises
Issues About Privacy, Experts Say, Daily Lab. Rep., Nov. 17, 1992, at A-
7; and Piller, supra note . She sued and a class action suit followed,
but both cases were thrown out. Appeals are pending. See infra note
18. Dean, supra note . Their E-mail had included jokes, racy
personal messages, and criticism of the boss. See infra note .
19. Alice Kahn, Electronic Eavesdropping, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE,
Oct. 31, 1991, at D3. In January 1993, a U.S. District Court Judge for
the District of Columbia ruled that the tapes are official records and
cannot be destroyed. Dean, supra note , and Keitt, Jr. & Kahn, supra
note . This case, however, involved government communications which
are subject to a different legal analysis. See infra p. 10.
20. Dean, supra note . In a similar case, two computer programmers
who worked for a software company in San Jose, California, called Mentor
Graphics, were fired for allegedly disclosing trade secrets to a rival
computer company. The disclosure was discovered while monitoring E-mail
messages sent over Internet. The case was settled in early 1992. Bureau
of National Affairs, Inc., supra note .
21. Pillar, supra note , at 122; Dean, supra note . See infra note
 and accompanying text.
22. S. 984, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. S6122 (1993); H.R.
1900, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. E1077 (1993); and S. 311,
103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. S1390 (1993).
23. Lini Kadaba, Employer Eavesdropping Debated: Workers Say it
Stresses Them Out; Companies Content They Have Right, PHOENIX GAZETTE,
Oct. 8, 1993, at C6, and Bruce Phillips, Uncontrolled Employee Monitoring
Raises Threat of Electronic Sweatshops, OTTAWA CITIZEN, Sept. 1, 1993, at
24. For example, electronic cards and "Active Badges" can reveal a
worker's presence and location, call accounting systems can show how many
calls and faxes were made and to whom, and computer programs can record
when and how long an employee was logged onto a computer. See, e.g.,
Phillips, supra note ; Larry Tye & Marla Van Schuyver, Technology Tests
Privacy in the Workplace: No Private Lives, BOSTON GLOBE, Sept. 6, 1993,
at 13; and Blackman & Franklin, supra note .
25. Pillar, supra note .
26. For example, a 1991 study by the Society for Human Resource
Management of its members found that eleven percent of the 1,493
respondents used video cameras to monitor workers; eight percent,
computer terminal; and five percent, telephone taps. Kadaba, supra note
. In 1990, a study of 186 New York metropolitan area companies found
73--roughly 40 percent--were engaging in some type of electronic
surveillance of their employees. Gene Bylinsky, How Companies Spy on
Employees, FORTUNE, Nov. 4, 1991, at 131. On the other hand, a study by
Robert Half International, Inc., revealed that only 44 percent of
companies surveyed had a written code of ethics communicated to
employees. Schwebach, supra note . Employees also seem to be naive
about company monitoring practices. A Louis Harris Associates Survey of
1000 workers at 300 companies found more than 90 percent think that
employers collect only information that is relevant and necessary. Lee
Smith, What the Boss Knows About You, FORTUNE, Aug. 9, 1993, at 88.
27. These studies include one conducted by the University of Wisconsin
that revealed that monitored telecommunications workers suffered more
from depression, anxiety, and fatigue than nonmonitored workers at the
same plant. A Massachusetts survey showed that at companies monitoring
for efficiency, 65 percent of employees could not perform their tasks
effectively because they were required to work too fast. Blackman and
Franklin, supra note .
28. For a related discussion, see Ernest Kallman, Electronic
Monitoring of Employees: Issues & Guidelines, J. SYS. MGMT., June 1993,
29. Trade associations and others are taking different stances on the
debate. The ACLU's Task Force on Civil Liberties in the Workplace takes
the position that companies should not open employee E-mail, although
other organizations are also amenable to the corporate view. The
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), which in fact
lobbied Congress to specifically include E-mail in its proposed
legislation, says that companies should give individuals more privacy,
but that company policies could spell out monitoring practices. The
Electronic Frontier Foundation in Washington comes down on the side of
privacy but agrees that if a monitoring policy is presented to employees,
that employees are effectively giving the company permission to monitor
their E-mail. On the other hand, the Computer and Business Equipment
Manufacturers Association considers computer monitoring to be a
legitimate management tool, and the Electronic Mail Association (EMA),
which represents E-mail suppliers and corporate users, agrees. While
company policies spelling out privacy are good, EMA Executive Director
William Moroney thinks that "employers need the right to control,
evaluate, and monitor all forms of employee communication." The EMA
essentially believes that employees should not expect any more of a right
of privacy with E-mail than they would get from tossing a memo in their
out-basket. Richard A. Danca, Privacy Act Would Force Firms to Inform
Their Employees About E-Mail Monitoring: Privacy Issue Comes of Age in
the Networked World, PC WEEK, June 28, 1993, at 203.
30. According to the MacWorld survey, nearly half of the managers
surveyed endorse the concept of electronic monitoring. Four percent
endorse it "for routinely verifying employee honesty." A much higher
number--23 percent--feel electronic monitoring is a good tool where
reasonable evidence of wrongdoing, such as theft or negligence, comes to
light. Pillar, supra note , at 121.
31. Terry Morehead Dworkin, Protecting Private Employees From Enhanced
Monitoring: Legislative Approaches, 28 AM. BUS. L.J. 59 (Spring 1990).
A study by Ernest Kallman found several specific arguments for employing
electronic monitoring in general. The primary argument put forth by
management is to increase productivity. The second argument is that
electronic monitoring allows management to do a better job of personnel
management since it provides a more objective appraisal. Finally, it
improves the performance appraisal process. Kallman, supra note .
32. For example, there are concerns that if a newspaper was working on
a major story that relied on some key information stuck in a reporter's
E-mail, the newspaper would not be able to access the information if the
reporter was not available to give permission. Likewise, if a purchase
order was sent via E-mail to a specific recipient who was unavailable, no
one else in that office would be able to access the file to process the
order. Bob Brown, E-Mail Users Voice Concern About Pending Legislation,
NETWORK WORLD, Aug. 23, 1993, at 6.
33. A right of privacy is not explicitly stated in the U.S.
Constitution, although it has an implicit textual basis found in several
amendments such as the Fourth Amendment.
34. U.S. CONST. amend. IV.
35. See infra p. 15.
36. The Search and Seizure clause of the U.S. Constitution does not
protect citizens from unreasonable searches by private parties. See,
e.g., Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 349 (1974), and
United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113-14 (1984).
37. In this sense, one might observe that private employees actually
enjoy less privacy protection than those working for the government.
38. 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
39. 442 U.S. 735 (1979).
40. In Katz, F.B.I. agents acting without a warrant attached a
listening device to the outside of a public phone booth to monitor the
defendant's conversation. In Smith, a telephone company used a pen
register at police request to record the numbers dialed from the home of
a man suspected of placing threatening calls to a robbery victim.
41. This standard was first enunciated in Katz and later adopted in
Smith. It first asks whether the individual, by his or her conduct, has
"exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy," (339 U.S. 347,
361 (Harlan, J., concurring)) having shown that he or she "seeks to
preserve (something) as private." (at 351) The second part of the
analysis is whether the individual's subjective expectation of privacy is
"one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable.'" (at 361)
Most adjudication has relied on the second part of the inquiry, which
remains the prevailing authority. See, e.g., Amsterdam, Perspectives on
the Fourth Amendment, 58 MINN. L. REV. 349 (1974).
42. Other criteria include whether there was a legitimate purpose or
"compelling government interest" in the seizure/disclosure of the
information; what alternatives were available; whether a property right
could be maintained; and what precautions were taken. For an analysis of
these criteria, see Laurie Thomas Lee, Constitutional and Common Law
Informational Privacy: Proposing a "Reasonable Needs" Approach for New
Technologies, Paper Presented to the AEJMC Annual Convention, Kansas City
43. 442 U.S. 735, 742.
44. Id. at 743-44. The Court has also relied on the "knowingly
exposed" criterion in United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 (1983) (where
a "beeper" had been attached to an individual's car for tracking
purposes, and an automobile otherwise travels over publicly viewed
roads), and in California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986) (where a
homeowner complained of the government flying over, observing, and
photographing his fenced-in backyard, otherwise observable from
45. This is because of the large volume of messages being transmitted
over the system and a perception that an E-mail administrator or operator
would otherwise be disinterested. This assumption is probably valid,
although telephone companies, too, have little interest in any one phone
call of thousands, although some interceptions do still occur for various
46. Schowengerdt v. United States, 944 F.2d 483, 488-89 (9th Cir.
1991), cert. denied, 117 S.Ct.L.Ed.2d 650 (1992).
47. American Postal Workers Union v. United States Postal Serv, 871
F.2d 556, 560 (6th Cir. 1989).
48. A recent E-mail snooping allegation may serve as an example here.
At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, computer administrators allegedly
read student E-mail messages without their permission, but supposedly to
help law enforcement authorities. In one case, computer files of one
student were turned over to police pursuing a felony investigation. See
E-mail Snooping Alleged; UNO Administrators May Have Eavesdropped,
LINCOLN J., Mar. 30, 1994. If the administrators voluntarily released
the contents to the authorities on their own initiative (or a warrant had
been properly issued), then a constitutional right would not likely be
found. See, e.g., "false friend" cases such as Hoffa v. United States,
385 U.S. 293 (1966); United States v. White, 401 U.S. 745 (1971); Lopez
v. United States, 373 U.S. 427 (1963); and Couch v. U.S., 409 U.S. 322
(1973). See also United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976), and
California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988).
49. O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709 (1987).
51. In one case, the Court concluded that suspicionless drug testing
of railroad employees was reasonable in the interest of railroad safety.
Skinner v. Railway Labor Executive's Association, 489 U.S. 602, 109 S.
Ct. 1402 (1989). In another case, the Court upheld a drug screen program
for U.S. Customs Service employees involved in such activities as drug
interdiction. National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S.
656, 109 S. Ct. 1384 (1989).
52. See, e.g., Bianco v. American Broadcasting Cos., 470 F. Supp.
(N.D. Ill. 1979), where an employer's electronic eavesdropping on
employees did not violate an Illinois constitutional provision
prohibiting interceptions by eavesdropping devices, since the
constitutional provision limits only governmental activity and not
53. N.J.S.A. CONST. art. 1, par. 1. This states that "[A]ll persons
are by nature free and independent and have certain natural and
inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life
and liberty, of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and of
pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness."
54. Hennessey v. Coastal Eagle Point Oil Co., 129 N.J. 81 (1992). In
this case, the Supreme Court of New Jersey nonetheless upheld an
employer's discharge of an employee following a positive drug test.
55. Luedtke v. Nabors Alaska Drilling, Inc., 768 P.2d 1123, 1132-33
(Alaska 1989). It also found that public policy entitled private
employers to withhold private information from their employers. Id. at
56. See, e.g., Porten v. University of San Francisco, 64 Cal. App. 3d
825, 134 Cal. Rptr. 839 (1976) (where a private university improperly
disclosed a student's grades from another university to the State
Scholarship and Loan Commission). See also Valley Bank of Nevada v.
Superior Court, 15 Cal. 3d 652, 542 P.2d 977, 125 Cal. Rptr. 55 (1975)
(where similarly, a private entity was prevented from disclosing another
entity's financial records).
57. See supra p. 4 and infra notes  and [20, 156].
58. Pub. L. No. 99-508, 100 Stat. 1848 (1986) (codified at 18 U.S.C.
2510-2521, 2701-2710, 3117, 3121-3126 (1988)).
59. 18 U.S.C.A. 2510-2520 (1970 & Supp. 1994).
60. Congress believed the ECPA was necessary because the 1968 Act
initially protected only against aural interception of voice
communications, and the privacy protection was limited to narrowly
defined "wire" and "oral" communications. It did not cover data
communications. See U.S. v. Gregg, 629 F. Supp. 958 (W.D. Mo. 1986),
aff'd, 829 F.2d 1430 (one case that prompted the ECPA amendments because
Title III, which regulated the "interception of wire and oral
communications," did not apply to the interception of telex
communications; telex interceptions did not involve "aural acquisition"
of defendant's communications.)
61. 18 U.S.C. 2510(1), (4), (12), (17).
62. Senate Report No. 99-541, U.S.C.C.A.N. 3555, 3566 (1986).
63. Id. at 3568. The ECPA defines electronic communications as the
"transfer of signs, signals, writings, images, sounds, data, or
intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or part by a wire, radio,
electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photooptical system that affects
interstate or foreign commerce . . . ." (18 U.S.C. 2510(12)) The
legislative history further clarifies that the term "also includes
electronic mail, digitized transmissions, and video teleconferences."
(Senate Report, at 3568)
64. 18 U.S.C. 2510(5).
65. Senate Report, at 3568.
66. 18 U.S.C. 2701-2711.
67. Id. 2701. This provision makes it unlawful for anyone who "(1)
intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an
electronic communication service is provided; or (2) intentionally
exceeds an authorization to access that facility; and thereby obtains,
alters, or prevents unauthorized access to a wire or electronic
communication while it is in electronic storage in such system . . . ."
The Act does not specifically state that electronic storage pertains to
E-mail, but this provision would still protect E-mail provided as an
"electronic communication service."
68. 18 U.S.C. 2510(12).
69. Senate Report, at 3565-3566. This states that "the transmission
of 'communications affecting interstate or foreign commerce,' are within
the definition of a 'wire communication.' This language recognizes that
private networks and intracompany communications systems are common today
and brings them within the protection of the statute . . . . [T]he term
'wire communication' means the transfer of a communication which includes
the human voice at some point." Congress considers voice mail to be an
example of "wire communication." (at 3566) Congress does not explicitly
include private networks and intracompany communications within its
discussion of electronic communications. What is confusing about this
distinction, however, is that the definition of "wire communication" in
the Act "includes any electronic storage of such communication." (18
70. 18 U.S.C. 2511(2)(d) (unless the purpose of the interception is
to commit a criminal or tortious act). The Stored Wire and Electronic
Communications provisions also permit access to stored communications
with the authorization "by the user of that service with respect to a
communication of or intended for that user; . . ." 2701(c)(2)
71. Griggs-Ryan v. Smith 904 F.2d 112, 117 (1st Cir. 1990). The court
further stated that "consent inheres where a person's behavior manifests
acquiescence or a comparable voluntary diminution of his or her otherwise
protected rights." Id. at 116. This case was outside the employment
context, although it concerned telephone monitoring.
72. 704 F.2d 577 (11th Cir. 1983).
73. Id. at 581.
75. Id. at 581-82.
76. This was the case in Watkins, where a personal call was more than
inadvertently monitored. The court remanded the case to determine the
scope of the consent and to decide whether and to what extent the
interception exceeded the consent. Id. at 582.
77. 980 F.2d 1153 (8th Cir. 1992).
78. Id. at 1156-57.
79. Id. at 1157.
80. Campiti v. Walonis, 611 F.2d 387, 396 (1979) (where police officer
used an extension phone to intercept inmates' telephone conversations).
81. See, e.g., Epps v. St. Mary's Hosp. of Athens, Inc., 802 F.2d 412
(11th Cir. 1986); Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Co., 704 F.2d 577; and Deal v.
Spears, 980 F.2d 1153.
82. The ECPA finds interceptions of electronic communications to be
unlawful if accomplished through the use of an "electronic, mechanical,
or other device." 18 U.S.C. 2510(4). But such devices do not include
a) any telephone or telegraph instrument, equipment or facility, or any
component thereof, (i) furnished to the subscriber or user by a
provider of a wire or electronic communication service in the ordinary
course of its business and being used by the subscriber or user in the
ordinary course of its business or furnished by such subscriber or user
for connection to the facilities of such service and is used in the
ordinary course of its business; or (ii) being used by a provider of
wire or electronic communication service in the ordinary course of its
business . . . . ( 2510(5)(a))
83. For example, in Epps v. St. Mary's Hosp. of Athens, Inc., 802 F.2d
412, the court, in determining the exceptions under 2510, distinguished
a "ringdown line" from an entire extension telephone, and distinguished
recording equipment used from the intercepting dispatch panel. In Deal
v. Spears, 908 F.2d 1153, 1158, the court distinguished the use of a
telephone recording device purchased from Radio Shack to fall outside the
exception since the device was not provided by a telephone company.
84. One confusing aspect is that the service provider must be using
facilities for the transmission of a wire communication, which by
definition, may limit this to only providers that also transport voice
communications. See supra note .
85. Section 2511(2)(a)(i) does not further limit the extent of
monitoring by electronic communication service providers. Instead, it
states only that "a provider of wire communication service to the public
shall not utilize service observing or random monitoring except for
mechanical or service quality control checks." (emphasis added)
86. 591 F.2d 579 (10th Cir. 1979).
87. 455 F. Supp. 179 (N.D. Ga. 1978), aff'd, 630 F.2d 414 (5th Cir.
88. 704 F.2d 577.
89. Id. at 581-82.
90. 980 F.2d 1153.
91. Id. at 1158. The court did, however, refuse to grant punitive
damages, considering that the employee was warned, that the employer had
a purpose to solve a crime, that the employer had asked a law enforcement
officer in advance about the legality of recording, and that the tapes
were only played to the employee. Id. at 1159.
92."It is impossible to 'listen' to a computer and determine when to
stop listening and minimize as it is possible to do in listening to a
telephone conversation." (Senate Report, at 3585) This would "require
a somewhat different procedure than that used to minimize a telephone
call." (at 3583)
93. 18 U.S.C. 2511(1)(c). This attaches liability when a party
"intentionally discloses . . . to any other person the contents of any
wire, oral, or electronic communication, knowing or having reason to know
that the information was obtained" through an interception illegal under
94. Id. 2510(8).
95. 980 F.2d at 1156, 1158
96. Under any of these sections of the ECPA, a successful civil
plaintiff may recover the greater of either A) actual damages plus any
profits made by the violator, or B) the greater of $100 a day for each
day of violation or $10,000. 18 U.S.C. 2520(c)(2)(A), (B) Punitive
damages, attorney fees, and other litigation costs reasonably incurred
are also allowed. 2520(b)(2), (3).
97. 18 U.S.C. 2703.
98. The computers belonged to an individual suspected of a computer
crime conspiracy to disrupt 911 systems. Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v.
United States Secret Service, 816 F. Supp. 432 (W.D. Tex. 1993). The
court held that the Secret Service had violated provisions of the Stored
Wire and Electronic Communications and Transactional Records Access Act
(of the ECPA), 18 U.S.C. 2701-2711.
99. Federal law does not pre-empt state law under the Supremacy Clause
of the U.S. Constitution. See, e.g., Ann K. Bradley, An Employer's
Perspective on Monitoring Telemarketing Calls: Invasion of Privacy or
Legitimate Business Practice?, 42 LAB. L.J. 259 (May 1991).
100. Unless, of course, the other party is also an employee of the
same company and "implied consent" is found.
101. A communications common carrier provides transmission service
facilities to the general public--such as a telephone or telegraph
company--and is regulated by federal and state regulatory agencies. See,
e.g., W. JOHN BLYTH & MARY M. BLYTH, TELECOMMUNICATIONS: CONCEPTS,
DEVELOPMENTS, AND MANAGEMENT, at 45 (2d ed. 1990).
102. It should be noted that while many states limit the business use
exemption, employees may still lose protection where prior consent is
103. See Table 2 for those states not listed or that do not clearly
identify a business use exemption (Prior Consent Exemption Only).
104. R.R.S. Neb. @ 86-702(2)(a) (1992). This specifically states:
It shall not be unlawful . . . for an employer on his, her, or its
business premises, for an operator of a switchboard, or for an officer,
employee, or agent of any provider, the facilities of which are used
in the transmission of a wire communication, to intercept, disclose,
or use that communication in the normal course of his, her, or its
employment while engaged in an activity which is a necessary incident
to the rendition of his, her, or its service or to the protection of
the rights or property of the carrier or provider of such communication
services. Such employers and providers shall not utilize service
observing or random monitoring except for mechanical, service quality,
or performance control checks as long as reasonable notice of the
policy of random monitoring is provided to their employees.
106. See Dworkin, supra note , at 80.
107. Casarez, supra note , at 38.
108. Tex. H.R. 889 (1989).
109. 1993 CA A.B. 2271 (vetoed Oct. 11, 1993). The law would have
prohibited "any officer, employee, or agent of a telephone corporation
from monitoring, recording, wiretapping, eavesdropping, or otherwise
documenting any conversation of its employees, except . . . a telephone
corporation may monitor telephone conversations of its employees solely
for the purposes of quality assurance and training."
110. For example, Nevada passed a law that prohibits surreptitious
monitoring of other people, but it is limited to private conversations.
NEV. REV. STAT. ANN. 200.650 (Michie 1991). Connecticut passed a law
that prevents electronic surveillance of areas provided for the "health
or personal comfort of employees or for the safeguarding of their
possessions." CONN. GEN. STAT. ANN. 31-48b(b) (West 1987). Although
the state law does not specify E-mail, it is considered to apply to the
surveillance of related areas such as lounges, locker rooms, and rest
areas, and it does not consider prior notification as an exception.
Dworkin, supra note , at 80.
111. Such as 1991 MA H.B. 4457.
112. Opinion of the Justices, 358 Mass. 827, 260 N.E. 740 (1970).
113. 1994 MA H.B. 1800. As of June 1994, the bill had not passed the
114. 1994 GA S.B. 646 (introduced Feb. 15, 1994).
115. 1994 NY A.B. 10705 (introduced April 1, 1994). This may apply to
personal E-mail messages if considered to be "non-work related
116. Privacy law began as a common law tort that grew from a set of
rights broadened to mean "the right to enjoy life--the right to be let
alone." See Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy,
4 HARV. L. REV. 192, 192 (1890).
117. 2 G. TRUBOW, PRIVACY LAW AND PRACTICE 9-51 (1991).
118. In 1960, Dean William L. Prosser synthesized hundreds of cases
recognizing a right of privacy actionable in tort. (William L. Prosser,
Privacy, 28 CALIF. L. REV. 383 (1960)) His widely accepted analysis
(reflected in RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS 652B (1977)) breaks down
the privacy invasion lawsuit into four separate torts: 1) Appropriation,
for the defendant's advantage, of the plaintiff's name or likeness, 2)
Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye, 3)
Public disclosure of embarrassing, private facts about the plaintiff, and
4) Intrusion upon the plaintiff's seclusion or solitude, or into his
119. RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS 652B (1977).
120. 2 G. TRUBOW, supra note , citing, e.g., Love v. Southern Bell
Telephone and Telegraph Co., 263 So. 2d 460 (La. Ct. App.), cert. denied,
262 La. 1117, 266 So. 2d 429 (1972).
121. See David F. Linowes & Ray C. Spencer, Privacy: The Workplace
Issue of the '90s, 23 J. MARSHALL L. REV. 591 (1990).
123. See, e.g., Luedtke v. Nabors Alaska Drilling Inc., P.2d 1123
(Alaska 1989) (where employer testing for drug use was found not
actionable as an invasion of privacy because the intrusion was not
124. See, e.g., Ballaron v. Equitable Shipyards, Inc., 521 So. 2d 481
(La. Ct. App. 1988), cert. denied, 522 So. 2d 571 (La. 1988), and Gibson
v. Hummel, 688 S.W.2d 4 (Mo. Ct. App. 1985) (where requiring a polygraph
test did not constitute outrageous conduct where employee admitted to
stealing during the test).
125. 62A AM. JUR. 2D Privacy 61 (1990).
126. See, e.g., Thomas v. General Elec. Co., 207 F. Supp. 792 (W.D.
Ky. 1962) (where employer may take motion pictures of employees without
their consent for purposes of studies to increase efficiency and promote
the safety of employees).
127. 62A AM JUR 2d., supra note .
128. This would include surreptitious surveillance such as wiretapping
or eavesdropping. See, e.g., Dietemann v. Time, Inc., 449 F.2d 245 (9th
Cir. 1971), aff'g 284 F. Supp. 925 (C.D. Cal. 1968). See also Marks v.
Bell Telephone Co., 460 Pa. 73, 331 A.2d 424 (1975) (where, in the
absence of an intentional overhearing of a private conversation by an
unauthorized party, the tort of invasion of privacy was not committed).
129. For example, courts have applied a different standard to privacy
in the home and in similar quarters. See, e.g., Newcomb Hotel v.
Corbett, 27 Ga. App. 365, 108 S.E. 309 (1921) (intrusions into guest
rooms by hotel management), and Byfield v. Candler, 33 Ga. App. 275, 125
S.E. 905 (1924) (intrusions into overnight quarters on a train or ship by
management). Yet if individuals are in a public place, there may be no
cause of action. See, e.g., Muratore v. M/S Scotia Prince, 656 F. Supp.
471 (D. Me. 1987) (photographing passenger in a public place). Even if
the plaintiff is considered to be in a public place, however, some
consideration is given to the private nature of the activity. For
example, in Lewis v. Dayton Hudson Corp., 128 Mich. App. 165, 339 N.W.2d
857 (1983) the court considered the private nature of one's activity in
a case involving the observations of a store patron trying on clothes in
a dressing room--despite the fact that the activity occurred on store
property. In general, that which is intruded upon must be entitled to be
private. WILLIAM L. PROSSER & W. PAGE KEETON, THE LAW OF TORTS at 855
(5th ed. 1984).
130. See RESTATEMENT, supra note  at comment d, which explicitly
requires this criterion. Courts may also take into account the nature of
the intrusion, such as whether it "was done in a vicious and malicious
manner not reasonably limited and designed to obtain the information
needed..." and was "calculated to frighten and torment...." Pinkerton
Nat'l Detective Agency, Inc. v. Stevens, 122 S.E.2d 119, 123 (Ga. Ct.
App. 1963). Some courts have applied or recognized an even more
stringent requirement of "outrageous conduct," where the conduct must be
so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all
possible bounds of decency and be regarded as atrocious and utterly
intolerable in a civilized community. RESTATEMENT, supra note .
131. See, e.g., Horstman v. Newman, 291 S.W.2d 567 (Kan. Ct. App.
1956) (per curiam) (landlord may enter tenant's land to demand rent due);
Engman v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 631 S.W.2d 98 (Mo. Ct. App.
1982) (telephone company may enter home of individual who had not paid
the phone bill, in order to remove the company's phones); and Schmukler
v. Ohio Bell Tel. Co., 66 Ohio L. Abs 213, 116 N.E.2d 819 (C.P. 1953) (no
invasion of privacy where telephone company monitored residential phone
after discovering the number of calls to be excessively high, where the
monitoring was for a short period of time and was done for business
132. See Marks v. Bell Telephone Co., 460 Pa. 73, 331 A.2d 424 (1975),
where an attorney sued a city and the telephone company because the
police department recorded all of its incoming and outgoing telephone
calls. No recovery was granted because the attorney could not prove any
private conversation was heard or replayed.
133. For an analysis of how courts might consider an expectation of
privacy relative to company E-mail, see supra p. 13.
134. 677 S.W.2d 632 (Tex. Ct. App. 1984), writ of error denied, 686
S.W.2d 593 (Tex. 1985).
135. 677 S.W.2d 632, 637. The court held that "the element of a
highly offensive intrusion is a fundamental part of the definition of an
invasion of privacy." at 637
136. See, e.g., International Nickel Co., 50 Lab. Arb. 65 (Shister
1967) and B.F. Goodrich, 70 Lab. Arb. 326 (Oppenheim 1978), as cited by
2 G. TRUBOW, supra note , at 9-52.
137. Although it is argued that the purpose factor is too often merged
with the question of outrageousness or offensiveness. See, 1 G. TRUBOW,
PRIVACY LAW AND PRACTICE 1-83 to 1-84 (1991).
138. 53 Or. App. 604, 632 P.2d 1295 (1981).
139. See also Froelich v. Werbin, 212 Kan. 119, 509 P.2d 1118 (1968);
second appeal, Froelich v. Adair, 213 Kan. 357, 516 P.2d 993 (1973);
third appeal, Froelich v. Werbin, 219 Kan. 461, 548 P.2d 482 (1976),
where the Kansas Supreme Court considered an intrusion to be offensive
when a hospital orderly collected a hair sample from a patient's
hairbrush for the purpose of establishing the patient's homosexuality
(although a dissenting opinion stated that the purpose of the intrusion
was irrelevant). 516 P.2d at 998.
140. A search for stolen property by an employer has also been held
not to be an unreasonable invasion of privacy. See 2 G. TRUBOW, supra
note , citing Cherkin v. Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City
Health & Hospitals Corp., 479 F. Supp. 207 (S.D.N.Y. 1979). But see K-
Mart Corporation Store No. 7441 v. Trotti, 677 S.W.2d 632 (Tex. Ct. App.
1984), writ of error denied, 686 S.W.2d (Tex. 1985), where the court
determined that mere suspicion that an employee stole merchandise was
insufficient to justify a search of the employee's locked locker without
consent. 677 S.W.2d at 640.
141. Oliver v. Pacific N.W. Bell Tel. Co., 53 Or. App. 604, 632 P.2d
142. See, e.g., Thomas v. General Elec. Co., 207 F. Supp. 792 (W.D.
Ky. 1962), where the court found a legitimate business interest in
photographing employees without their consent for purposes of a study to
increase efficiency. Note also that an employer may defend its
monitoring actions by pointing to the RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF AGENCY CH.
13, TITLES B, C (1957), which suggests that an employee owes a duty of
loyalty and a duty to act with reasonable skill and care to the employer.
143. See Hoth v. American States Ins. Co., 735 F. Supp. 290, 293 (N.D.
Ill. 1990), where the plaintiff failed to state a cause of action in
Illinois for invasion of privacy where an employer searched his desk and
file cabinets because the employee suffered no anguish and did not allege
that the employer lacked authority to conduct the search.
144. PROSSER & KEETON, supra note , at 867.
145. 2 G. TRUBOW, supra note , citing Cherkin v. Bellevue Hospital
Center, New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., 479 F. Supp. 207
(S.D.N.Y. 1979), where a court held that an employer may search an
employee's purse in accordance with an announced inspection policy.
146. For example, insurance claims investigators may have a privileged
relationship with a claimant who may be deemed to have consented to a
reasonable investigation upon filing an injury claim. See Senogles v.
Security Ben. Life Ins. Co., 217 Kan. 438, 536 P.2d 1358 (1975).
147. 1 G. TRUBOW, supra note , at 1-92.
148. Courts may also compare E-mail to a lock (or unlocked) desk
drawer. See supra notes  and . It is also possible that an E-mail
message may be likened to a bulletin-board notice, in which case
protection would not likely be found. Note that because telephone
eavesdropping and wiretapping cases are generally subject to
constitutional and statutory law, they are not often treated under common
149. 539 F.2d 966 (3d Cir. 1976).
150. In fact, the court cited a telephone wiretapping case, Marks v.
Bell Telephone Co. of Pa., 460 Pa. 73, 331 A.2d 424 (1975) commenting
that "[j]ust as private individuals have a right to expect that their
telephonic communications will not be monitored, they also have a
reasonable expectation that their personal mail will not be opened and
read by unauthorized persons." 539 F.2d at 969. In Marks, however,
privacy rights were not considered infringed because no private
conversation was intentionally overheard.
151. See, e.g., Schmukler v. Ohio Bell Tel. Co., 66 Ohio L. Abs 213,
116 N.E.2d 819 (C.P. 1953). (Supra note ) See also McDonald's Corp.
v. Levine, 108 Ill. App. 3d 732, 439 N.E.2d 75 (1982), where secret
recordings were made by franchisees of business conversations with the
company and were turned over to the franchisees' attorney. The court
found that the employees were acting in their corporate representative
capacities, rather than their individual capacities.
152. 517 F. Supp. 128 (E.D. Tenn. 1981).
153. Casarez, supra note .
154. This includes a case brought by Rhonda Hall and Bonita Bourke
against Nissan Motor Company which allegedly fired the pair after reading
the women's personal E-mail messages on the company's system. See supra
note  and accompanying text. A California court reportedly has
rejected the privacy claim in an unpublished decision (Bourke v. Nissan
Motor Corp., No YC 003979, 1993). See Michael Furey, Lynn Anderson,
Shelly Dean & Scott Ohnegian, Overview: More Whistleblowers?, NEW JERSEY
L.J., April 11, 1994, at 4. A wrongful-termination charge also applied
to cases involving Alana Shoars, formerly an E-mail administrator at
Epson America, who was allegedly fired for complaining about her boss
reading the supposedly private E-mail of Epson employees. (Shoars v.
Epson America, Inc., No. SWC 112749, Los Angeles Superior Court (1990);
Flanagan v. Epson America, Inc., Calif. Super. Ct., No. BC 007036
(1991)(class action suit)) See supra note . Both Epson cases were
dismissed by lower courts, but are currently on appeal. Pillar, supra
note , at 122.
155. 816 F. Supp. 432. See supra note  and accompanying text.
156. This pertains to the case filed by Borland International against
former employee Eugene Wang and Symantec Corporation. Dean, supra note
. See supra note [20, 156] and accompanying text. The case is still
pending and may take into account a possible violation of the ECPA
because the E-mail messages were obtained from the MCI Mail network.
157. Blackman & Franklin, supra note .
158. S. 984, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. S6122 (1993).
159. H.R. 1900, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. E1077 (1993)
(introduced by Rep. Pat Williams (D-MT).
160. Brown, supra note .
161. S. 984, supra note , 4(B).
162. Id. 4(B)(3).
163. The House version underwent several modifications in early 1994
that are reflected here. See, e.g., Section by Section Analysis of the
Substitute Privacy for Consumers and Workers Act (HR 1900), DAILY LAB.
REP., Feb. 24, 1994, at d32.
164. S. 984, supra note , 5(B)(2). New employees may be
monitored for no more than 60 days. ( 5(B)(1))
165. Supra note , 5.
166. S. 984, supra note , 5(B)(3).
167. Supra note , 5.
168. S. 984, supra note , 4(E).
169. Id. 6(B) and 10(A).
170. Id. 10(C).
171. Id. 8(a).
172. Id. 5(C)(1).
173. Id. 9(A).
174. Id. 13(C).
175. See, e.g., Jennifer J. Laabs, Surveillance: Tool or Trap?, 71
PERSONNEL J. 96 (June 1992).
176. Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Pros, Cons of Privacy Bill
Explored During Senate Hearing, DAILY LAB. REP., June 23, 1993.
177. CWA Calls Monitoring 'Menace;' Bill Would Force Companies to
Disclose Monitoring Practices, COMM. DAILY, June 24, 1993, at 3.
178. S. 311, 103d Cong., 1st Sess., 139 CONG. REC. S1390 (1993).
179. Id. 2, amending 2511(2)(d) of title 18 United States Code.
180. See supra pp. 21, 26, 36, 40.
181. Vernars v. Young, 539 F.2d 966 (3d Cir. 1976). See supra note
 and accompanying text. See also Annotation, Opening, Search, and
Seizure of Mail, 61 A.L.R. 2d 1282 (1958 & LATER CASE SERVICE 1984 &
1993) for an analysis of the search and seizure of mail under the U.S
Constitution. Generally, first-class mail is fully protected, although
other classes of mail are not entitled to Fourth Amendment protection
when in the custody of postal authorities.
182. S. 984, supra note , and H.R. 1900, supra note .
183. S. 984, supra note , 6(B) and 10(A).
184. Id. 8(a).
185. Id. 5(C)(1).
186. Id. 12(d).
187. H.R. 1900. See supra note , 5.
188. S. 984, supra note , 5(B)(1), (3).
189. Id. 5(B)(2).
190. The accessibility of college faculty E-mail is already being
scrutinized. Some government offices are declaring that government
employee E-mail is subject to the Freedom of Information Act and must be
available to the public and the press to the same extent as other
government records. Whether the E-mail of employees of state-supported
institutions must be available to the public is unclear. The University
of Michigan recently addressed this issue and maintained that its E-mail
is off-limits, arguing that the E-mail is not "owned" by a public body.
See, e.g., Karl Bates, U-M Takes Stand: E-mail is Private, ANN ARBOR
NEWS, Jan. 12, 1994, at B1, B3. Yet later, in response to requests by
two newspapers, the university released copies of messages exchanged
during a computer conference of the school's regents. Online, CHRONICLE
HIGHER EDUC., April 27, 1994, at A26.
191. S. 984, supra note , 2(2)(C)(i).
192. S. 311, supra note .
193. Companies may also want to get a help kit designed to help
companies develop an E-mail policy. The kit is available from the
Electronic Mail Association, 1555 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300, Arlington, VA
22209 (703) 875-8620.