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Think your work Blackberry is private?

Today's Poked column was inspired by a coworker, who came to me with a query I suspect is fairly common, about privacy and our work phones. It made me think that many folks have spent quite a bit of time complaining about Facebook and its privacy issues, but it also made me wonder if they've taken the time to look at another privacy issue: what's being monitored on our work equipment like Blackberries.

It also made me realize that I haven't really read our company's IT policy? It's 13 pages long, single-spaced. If I had read past the first few paragraphs, I would have come across a very clearly stated policy -- on page two -- that details how I have absolutely no "reasonable expectation'' of privacy or confidentiality when I'm using company equipment like a desktop computer or Blackberry, even if I'm using my personal e-mail account.

I wonder if Sgt. Quon of the Ontario, Calif., police department read his company policy before he signed it. His was fairly similar to mine. Still, Quon argued that when the police department read personal text messages he sent from his company-issued pager, they were violating his constitutional right against unreasonable search.

Quon took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him.

The court took care to say that it was a narrow decision, cautioning that it should not be used to establish "far-reaching premises that define the existence, and extent, of privacy expectations of employees using employer-provided communication devices.''

Journalists, like many professionals, practically live on their Blackberries. (Well, not me -- but I do live on my Droid, although I own it.) They have their work e-mail accounts, but also personal e-mail, Facebook and instant messaging, at least, installed on their smartphones.

I've always been skeptical about anything I do on a work computer or device. But I'm just one camp, says employment lawyer Chris Parlo. Parlo, who is based in New York with Morgan Lewis, says there's a whole other group of people out there, like my co-worker, and like Quon, who have different expectations of privacy.

Parlo thinks the Supreme Court decision has put companies and workers on notice.

Employers need to make sure they have policies that are well-known, clear and broad, so it captures all devices, situations and scenarios in which this might be an issue.

Workers need to have a reality check, too, he says. "I think the average worker has to understand that they're not free to do whatever they want, and should pay careful attention to what the employer has told them about what restrictions of personal use are on workplace devices.''

Have you read your company's IT policy? Did it made you switch from one camp to the other?


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More or less, it could be a case of trying to balance work and personal matters. If the smart phone is office property, it's basically made for work only. Using it for personal reasons could pose a risk for company data, after all.

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