Consider, hypothetically, that you are in the process of a nasty divorce. Using your company-owned laptop, you e-mail your divorce attorney about all of the times you cheated on your spouse, complete with action photos of each of your romantic soul mates and detailed descriptions of the unique talents of each one.
Now your spouse’s divorce attorney wants all of your personal e-mails sent or received on the company laptop.
Wait a minute – those are confidential (highly confidential) communications with your attorney. Aren’t those communications protected by the attorney-client privilege?
What if the company has never actually used its right to inspect private e-mails on company computers? Makes no difference. Your ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ is the same; that is, zero. You might as well have printed the e-mails on a 48′ billboard.
But what if you are the CEO and you own the company? You still are an employee and the company’s right to inspect applies to you, too.
So how do you protect yourself? If you are the CEO, change the company inspection policy to specifically exempt company officers from any right by the company to inspect the computers. Otherwise, keep your personal business and company business strictly separate and never use company computers (or tablets, smartphones, printers, faxes, or other devices) for personal matters.
For an example case, see Miller v Zara. See also Dennis Crouch’s discussion.
— Robert Yarbrough, Esq.