We learned this week that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have used personal email accounts to transact State Department business. Chances are you may have read the article and quickly turned back to your office computer to confirm your Saturday night dinner plans or to email your attorney about filing a joint tax return for 2014.
Perhaps your electronic musings don’t have the importance of communications from the Secretary of State, but you should know that the law is clear. You are entitled to no expectation of privacy if you use an office computer to carry your personal mail. Zero. Now some offices do not retain emails that have been sent/received using private accounts such as msn, Comcast or AOL. But that appears to be a function of how the server works rather than office policy.
Chances are, your employer really doesn’t care if you plan your next vacation on the office computer. But, there are folks out there who do want to know these things. People like a former or estranged spouse. If he or she should decide to subpoena your email account either at the office or otherwise, there is a reasonable chance that the information will be published. Under Pennsylvania law, if the material is sought pre-trial you will get notice of the request and a chance to object. But if the information is subpoenaed for trial, you may be learning about this stuff in the courtroom.
Another thing. Clients commonly email us from office servers (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org) with information they probably intend to be confidential. If you are using your office email address, it probably has no protection from discovery in your family law case. On the other hand if sent or received on a personal account, you have a strong basis to contend that this was as private as a telephone conversation and therefore protected from discovery.
So be aware of what account you are using when you email. Don’t permit Ms. Clinton’s problem to become yours.