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Employee BlackBerry Use – What Is Private, and What Is Employer-accessible?

October 15, 2008

A blackberry is a handheld device that makes it easy for people to stay connected to each other regardless of where they are. It is so convenient that it becomes part of one’s daily routine – blurring the line between business and personal device in the mind of the user. However, this begs the question as to whether an employee has an expectation of privacy when using their blackberry. As is usually the case with technological advances and employment law, the question is much simpler than the answer.

The evolution of technology and the growth of business appear to go hand in hand. Tools of the trade 20 years ago included a day planner, desktop computer, fax machine and telephone. There was a clear division between tools a company purchased for its employees and those professionals purchased personally.

Today, many people use email, laptops and blackberries or other small hand held devices to communicate and conduct business. The blackberry is a unique device because it combines the capabilities of a telephone with many of the features of a computer. Individuals can use it as a phone and also to check their email, schedules, and to find information on the internet. Each blackberry requires a mobile data plan to provide the service required to use the device.

So, should your employer have access to the information you send and receive when using your blackberry?

In order to analyze the issue, it is important to understand how the blackberry device works. If used for business purposes, it will be tied into your email, contacts, and calendar. This is accomplished by using a blackberry server that is tied into your company’s computer server. The blackberry server facilitates synchronization between your blackberry and your employer’s system that governs email, calendars and contacts. In other words your blackberry can synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, which is an email, calendar, scheduler, and contacts program.

While you use a blackberry, it continually refreshes and synchronizes with your email account, calendar and contacts. Typically, your employer will provide you with the blackberry and pay for the service that connects the device to your employer’s email system or Microsoft Outlook. In this case, you should have no expectation to privacy, as the information stored on the blackberry is contemporaneously stored on your company’s server. In fact, …

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by: Kevin V. Maltby, Esq.

September 15, 2008

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