Tuesday, May 18, 2010

IT Ain’t About The Cloud

There is lots of conversation about the privacy and e-communications in the work world, especially with the Supreme Court ruling expected soon in City of Ontario, Calif. v. Quon. As you may know, the case is about the expectation of privacy when an employee uses an employer provided communications devise for personal reasons. In the case a police officer’s sent personal text messages on a department device were reviewed by the department and the officer sued for a violation of his expectation of privacy. Confusion between official department policy which made clear the employees should NOT expect any right to privacy were watered down with a supervisor ‘unofficial’ actions which allowed officers to personally pay for overuse text messaging charges with an understanding the their personal messages would not be reviewed. Even though the department policy was clear regarding the official “no expectation of privacy” for employee use of department-issued electronic communications devices(which the employee signed off on), the supervisor's “unofficial policy” and “creation of an unauthorized expectation of privacy” creates the rub in the case. Now in the employee’s favor he did pay for part of the use of the device and he did send personal messages off-duty so perhaps the employer was not clear about when and how the device should be used and maybe it in part became a “personal” device when he paid for its use. So what is clear—this case makes clear that employers better BE CLEAR about directives. This case is not about third party storage of the messages “in the cloud”, though some have made it about that very issue. This case is not about the court undoing employers rights to review e-communications when they are CLEAR about their “no expectation of privacy” policy. This case is not about what private vs. public employees should expect from their employer regarding monitoring. This case is only about the reasonable expectation of privacy of one officer when policy is made ambiguous by word and deed. The court may broaden its ruling but the case is about varying official policy and unofficial practices and how that impacts what employees expects. Remember in Information Nation: Seven Keys to Information Management Compliance, one of the keys makes clear the need to be consistent. Clear policies consistently applied.

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