Sunday, November 6, 2011

Searching files in an office computer not a violation of a right

On the paramount issue of the legality of the search conducted on petitioner’s computer, the CSC noted the dearth of jurisprudence relevant to the factual milieu of this case where the government as employer invades the private files of an employee stored in the computer assigned to him for his official use, in the course of initial investigation of possible misconduct committed by said employee and without the latter’s consent or participation. The CSC thus turned to relevant rulings of the United States Supreme Court, and cited the leading case of O’Connor v. Ortega[22] as authority for the view that government agencies, in their capacity as employers, rather than law enforcers, could validly conduct search and seizure in the governmental workplace without meeting the “probable cause” or warrant requirement for search and seizure. Another ruling cited by the CSC is the more recent case of United States v. Mark L. Simons[23] which declared that the federal agency’s computer use policy foreclosed any inference of reasonable expectation of privacy on the part of its employees. Though the Court therein recognized that such policy did not, at the same time, erode the respondent’s legitimate expectation of privacy in the office in which the computer was installed, still, the warrantless search of the employee’s office was upheld as valid because a government employer is entitled to conduct a warrantless search pursuant to an investigation of work-related misconduct provided the search is reasonable in its inception and scope.

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