Privacy For A Stolen Computer?

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio handed down an interesting decision in an unusual case recently. And whether it stretches the bounds of privacy law or does the right thing probably depends on your general philosophy. The plaintiff in the case was a substitute teacher who bought a non working laptop from a student for $60. She got it working and used it for, among other things, sexually explicit communications with her boyfriend. The couple occasionally got naked in front of Web cams for each other’s viewing pleasure. What the teacher didn’t know were two problematic facts. First, the laptop she bought from the student was stolen. Second, the actual owner had installed a theft detection device from a company called Absolute Software. Absolute was able to obtain real time access to what was happening on the computer, including the fun stuff. Absolute turned over the information, including the naked screen shots, to the police. Although the teacher was arrested, the charges were quickly dropped. But the teacher was not satisfied with that result. She brought a civil action against Absolute, claiming that Absolute had violated her privacy. The District Court denied Absolute’s motion for summary judgment. According to the court, the teacher had a reasonable expectation of privacy. And while Absolute was entitled to track the computer down, under the circumstances, it did not necessarily have the right to share the information it recovered. I’m not sure what the lesson is here. I suppose it could be to think twice before taking naked pictures of yourself with your laptop. It could be asking for proof of purchase from the person you buy a $60 laptop from. Or it could be, no matter how tempting it is to humiliate the person who stole your computer (the don’t get mad get even approach) think twice, since you can’t be sure that the person who’s using it is really the thief.