With all the talk about workplace privacy, remember that your organization, not the employee, owns the computers and the data in them. You needn’t fear a privacy lawsuit if you give permission for law enforcement to read e-mail, search hard drives or access phone numbers on company-owned cell phones.
Recent case: When the FBI tipped off a Montana company that one of its workers had accessed child porn from a company computer, the IT department agreed to cooperate. It tracked Internet traffic and identified Jeffrey Ziegler, director of operations, as the culprit. Ziegler filed a privacy suit, but to no avail. The company owned the equipment, the court said. (United States v. Ziegler, No. 05-30177, 9th Cir., 2007)
Tip: It’s wise to establish a plan for official government search requests. Specify who can consent to searches and how you’ll protect sensitive company information from release.