Are You Sure It’s Okay To Snoop?

An employee who left her job at Verizon can proceed with a lawsuit against her supervisor for snooping on over 48,000 e-mails on the former employee’s Gmail account.  In addition to being curious and apparently having nothing else to do (who’s got time to read 48,000 e-mails?) the supervisor was creative.  His defense to the employee’s claims (which included a claim under the federal Stored Communications Act )  was that the employee authorized him to look at the e-mails.

Now that’s a legitimate defense under the Act.  A violation requires access “without authorization.” But the supervisor claimed that the authorization came from the fact that the employee returned her company issued phone without deleting the e-mails.  That didn’t cut it for the court.  The court acknowledged that a person can give “implied consent”  but just because the former employee was negligent, didn’t mean that she gave the creepy supervisor the thumbs up to pore over her private communications. 

Creative or not, the court overruled the supervisor’s motion to dismiss.  The lesson here I think is that if you’re not sure whether someone consented to access their electronic communications, the best approach is hands off.