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Anti-Hacking Laws Get a Tighter Grip on the Workplace

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) became federal law recently, which gives employers more legal power to protect their trade secrets. This is good news and bad news for the workplace: The good news is that employers have more remedies when hackers get into their computer systems. The bad news is that employees are the usual suspects.

In addition to setting federal standards that have previously been left to the states, DTSA provides for money damages, injunctive relief, seizure of property to protect trade secrets from disclosure, punitive damages, and attorney fees.

Boss to Employees: Your Email Is My Email

The new federal law, and most state anti-hacking laws, are intended to protect against unauthorized usages of computer systems and data. They are not designed to protect employees' privacy claims for their email communications. That's why the boss usually wins those cases for invasion of privacy involving email.

If an email is sent from the company's computer system, then it is considered to be company property. Generally, employers have the right to view and monitor employee email, so long as the employers have a valid business purpose for doing so.

In addition, employers have the right to track websites visited by their employees, to block them from visiting specific websites, and to limit the amount of time employees spend on specific websites.

Who's Been Listening to My Phone Calls?

Employers can monitor phone calls at their business locations, but there are limits.

The Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), provides that an employer may not monitor an employee's personal phone calls, even those made from work telephones. It also protects an employee's voicemail messages at work, such that employers may not read, disclose, delete, or prevent access to an employee's voicemail messages.

So there is some good news after all for employees when it comes to their voicemail messages at work. However, it could become a problem if the messages are recorded on an email system and become subject to the DTSA.

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