US is taking calculated and cautious steps to protect employees’ privacy

Peter McLaughlin of Armstrong Teasdale LLP reports on the privacy aspects of Artificial Intelligence and online monitoring in the US workplace.

There is a perception that there is little to no privacy rights for employees in the US workplace. This is not simply the view from outside the borders of the USA, but this view persists even within the country. Like many generalizations, it is based to some extent on a correct observation or truth. In this context, perhaps this perception reflects a broad truth within the US workplace.

In January 1999, the founder and then-CEO of Sun Microsystems Scott McNealy (in)famously told a group of reporters “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it!” While a lot has happened since that time, the acceptable use policies and employee handbooks of, I suspect, most US organizations assert that using the firm’s computer assets and networks means that the employee waives almost all privacy with respect to information sent and received over these systems. There are judicial decisions granting privacy or confidentiality rights in the area of an employee’s communications with their personal lawyer, and there are presumptions of privacy in email boxes and folders conspicuously labeled as “personal”, but these are exceptions from the rule.

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