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Cyberspace snooping can cost you

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Pilot Robert Konop was so upset with his employer and the union that he created a Web site to vent his feelings, even accusing the company president of fraud and comparing him to a Nazi. Konop controlled access to the site by requiring users to log in with a user name and password. He gave access only to company employees, not management or union reps.

One of the airline's VPs, however, got permission from two other pilots to use their identities to enter the site. The top brass were livid when they saw what was on it. The company president complained to the union rep, who says the president threatened to file a defamation suit.

But the airline earned itself a lawsuit. Konop sued the company for violating federal laws that bar wiretapping and protect the privacy of "stored communications", laws that Congress broadened in 1986 to include emerging technologies.

The appellate court decided that contents of a secure Web site are protected from unauthorized interception under both laws. The airline also faces charges that it violated federal labor law by, among other things, trying to coerce a worker with the threat of a lawsuit. (Konop v. Hawaiian Airlines Inc., 99-55106, 9th Cir., 2001)

Advice: Konop's site was considered private because it had a system to restrict access, and he didn't use his company computer to create or manage the site. While it's perfectly legal for you to review employees' internal e-mail or Web usage, it's a big no-no to take that extra step and dig into their private electronic communications.

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