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Many of us use the internet on a daily basis and the expectation of using the internet is that our research and information is private. The reasons why we have expectations of privacy are due to the rules, laws and regulations set forth in the past by cases involving the use of the internet. The case of Smyth v. Pillsbury Co., 914 F.Supp 97 is a prime example of internet use at work and the privacy expectations. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 criminalizes sending or displaying offensive messages on the internet less than 18 years of age. The Economic Espionage Act criminalizes the theft of confidential business information.
Internet Rules, Laws and Regulations
The case of Smyth v. Pillsbury Co., 914 F.Supp 97 (E.D. Pa. 1996) is a prime example of internet use and the privacy expectations we assume while at work. When an employee uses email at work that is a company email account, the expectations by the employer is that this email is used for professional use only and the expectations by the employee is that their emails are private and confidential. In the Smyth v. Pillsbury Co., 914 F.Supp 97 (E.D. Pa. 1996), Michael Smyth got fired for sending an email message threatening to harm fellow employees.
“He was terminated for inappropriate and unprofessional comments over defendant’s email system. Courts ruled that Pillsbury had the right to prevent unprofessional and illegal activity out-weighted any privacy interest of its employee in email comments.” (Rustad, 2009, p. 230)
At my work, I have often heard from Directors that the email is for company use only, but this is not a rule that is enforced. It always surprises me when coworkers send silly messages or add their work email for their personal use like shopping or receiving coupons. I believe that with the use of smart phones, it is unnecessary to use work emails and there would be less time wasted at work if the emails were monitored more.
The Communications Decency Act of 1996 criminalizes sending or displaying offensive messages on the internet under the age of eighteen.
Under Agency law, an employer is liable for the torts of its employees and agents if the tort is committed within the scope of their duties. This concept, known as "respondeat superior" or "let the master respond," imposes liability even if the employer is blameless.
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This law is useful because what a person does at work should only be work related and this protects the workplace environment and allows for employers to have rules and regulations to protect the integrity of the workplace environment.
The Economic Espionage Act criminalizes the theft of confidential business information.
“If an employee has access to anything an employer deems confidential, then the employee is obligated to maintain the secrecy of that information, no matter how mundane or nonscientific the information may be.” (Grosso, 2000) This not only is beneficial to my job, but to my husband’s business where he is a roofing contractor and it would be unprofessional to use other contractor’s contracts.
The Smyth v. Pillsbury Co., 914 F.Supp 97, the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the Economic Espionage Act are all beneficial for employers and employees and the use of the internet at work. The expectations at work by employers should be that the internet use if only for work related business. The IT department would not have to work as diligently with internet security and the potential threat of viruses if employees would only use the internet for work related research. The suggestions that I would have to strengthen each law and regulation are to actually enforce these laws and regulations. Many employers are lax on the internet use and the potential for problems are strong. Enforcing the laws and regulations at work would go a long way at improving the workplace as well as office morale.
Grosso, A. (2000). The Economic Espionage Act: Touring the Minefields. Communications of the ACM, p15-18.
Rustad, M. L. (2009). Internet Law in a Nutshell. St Paul: Thomas Reuters.
Townsend, A. M., Aalberts, R. J., & Whitman, M. E. (2000). Employer Liability Under the Communications Decency Act: Developing an Effective Policy Response. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, p39-46.