Contrary to the public's belief, emails are not a private or secure form of communication. This general misconception amongst employees has repeatedly resulted in legal quagmires and ethical dilemmas. "It's a situation that arises a million times a day in offices around the world. An employee has something personal to tell a co-worker.... Rather than pick up the phone or wander down the hall, he or she simply types a message on the desktop computer terminal and send it as electronic mail. The assumption is that anything sent by E-mail is private. That assumption unfortunately is wrong" (Gindin). Does your boss know what color underwear you were wearing during your romantic rendezvous last weekend? He very well could and according to the courts rightfully so, if you disclose such matters via email messages from your work computer. "Managers can legally intercept, monitor, and read employees email" (Shanon,Rosenthal).
Why do people assume that email is private? This assumption could seem reasonable, given that email can be accessed from a personal message service that requires a password to access, providing a false sense of confidentiality. Perhaps people who are familiar with the privacy protection of the U.S. mail system assume it applies to email as well. It is possible for someone to have a misconstrued faith in technological security when using electronic communication. These are only a few of the several possible reasons a person could mistakenly rationalize that email messages are free from interception. Unfortunately serious adverse ramifications may await employees who are unaware that their computer use can be monitored.
A very well known case involving email privacy is Shoars vs. Epson America, Inc. In this case, Alana Shoars, and Epson employee, arriving for work one day, discovered her supervisor reading and printing out email messages between other employees. She claims the same manager told her that all messages on the system were private. She questioned the practice and a day later she was fired for insubordination. She filed a $1 M wrongful-termination suit. Shoars also filed a class-action suit on behalf of herself and other employees, claiming invasion of privacy (under California's constitution and a wiretapping statute.) The state court ruled against Shoars on the ground that email was not covered by California's wiretapping statute and the right to privacy guaranteed by the state constitution covered personal but not business information. Incidentally, Shoars also lost her wrongful-termination suit, which she filed after being fired from Epson. (Shoars v. Epson America, Inc.)
An employee's perception of email privacy may be influenced by a lack of understanding in regards to the inner workings of computer software. For example some computer users who think messages are erased when they use the delete key may be unaware there is technology that is capable of storing backups of their email messages. "It doesn't...