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Private Email Access and the Stored Communications Act

September 29, 2015 by In Employment

Employees often ask whether their employer can access their private email messages that were used on the employer’s computer.  Generally, the answer to this inquiry is no, employers cannot intentionally access private email communication without your authorization.  This may likely constitute a violation of the Stored Communications Act.  Employees have no expectation of privacy with their work email accounts, but private accounts such as gmail, yahoo, and hotmail are generally protected.

Private Email Access and the Stored Communications Act

In 1986, Congress amended the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to include the Electronic Communications Storage Act, simply known as the Stored Communications Act.  Congress passed the Stored Communications Act to protect the privacy interests of individuals in their personal and proprietary information.  The Stored Communications Act prohibits anyone who “intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided . . . and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system.”  18 U.S.C. 2701(a).  “Electronic storage” is defined as “any temporary, intermediate storage of a wire or electronic communication incidental to the electronic transmission thereof; and any storage of such communication by an electronic communication service for purposes of backup protection of such communication.”  18 U.S.C. 2510(17).

The Stored Communications Act has teeth.  The Stored Communications Act provides a private cause of action and permits actual damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. 18 U.S.C. 2707.  Although the Stored Communications Act has been around for years, this is a new developing area of the law.  For example, it is unclear whether modern technology such as cell phones, Ipads, and google glasses would be covered under the Stored Communications Act.   This is a typical example of the law not being able to keep up with technology.

The Indianapolis employment law firm of Fox Williams & Sink serves clients throughout the state of Indiana with a wide range of employment issues including: Non-compete issues, Discrimination, Employment Litigation and Arbitration, Wrongful Termination, Fair Labor Standards Act, Overtime Compensation, Wage Claims, Racial Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Constitutional Law, Government Employees, Employment Contract Negotiations, and Unemployment issues.

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