back to article Judge: Your boss has no right to your emails held by a third party

Staff emails can’t just be accessed by a company whenever it feels like it, a UK High Court Judge has ruled, in what could be a guiding case on email privacy. A marine transport company was trying to get access to the emails of a former chief executive, but Justice Edwards-Stuart ruled that the content of emails is not the firm’ …

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Bronze badge

Is it just me?

I thought EVERY company put into employment contracts that all email/documents/inventions etc etc etc belonged to the company and most include that email is not for personal use. Not sure how you get from there to not being allowed to access staff emails if they were sent to a company email account since the fact that they were sent to a company email account would surely put them on the 'company ownership' side of the equation.

I know there was a European Privacy thing a while back which said that a company could not read personal emails sent to your company email account and would have thought this strengthened the aspect that the mail account belongs to the company. From the sounds of it, these emails contain information relating to the financial status of the company and so surely HMRC would insist that the company could produce them.

I'm confused

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Silver badge

Re: Is it just me?

Not just you. I too thought that a company would be covered by the usual conditions or internal network conditions of use.

And maybe that is true. The judge seems to be saying that in the absence of anything in writing to say this, the company cannot claim rights to the e-mails. Which seems ridiculous for e-mails sent to a company account.

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Re: Is it just me?

I think the point is that anything you put on the company network / email belongs to the company as per contract and reasonable sense. This seems to be a case where they're trying to get hold of a copy from externally because they deleted their own copy.

Perhaps they could argue that the copy is theirs due to intellectual property rights, same as a photocopy would be, but in that case I'd think he could just delete the mails as it isn't his responsibility to keep them.

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Re: Is it just me?

The sticking point seems to be this:

"Adkins had been seconded by Dockwise from another company, Cadenza Management, which was actually his employer"

You can be certain that Cadenza Management had had Adkins sign the usual email clause with them. But that isn't the same as him signing with Fairstar Heavy Transport, even though he was working as their CEO. So Dockwise sue Cadenza Management to get access to one of Cadenza's employees emails. That gets pretty weird. If you are a contractor for a company, they don't automatically get access to your email account.

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WTF?

Re: Is it just me?

The point you are missing is the fact that he was the CEO and we all know that they live in a different world. One in which you are never ultimately culpable, where you can get a fantastic pay off for poor performance and where, in the unlikely even of you having to deploy your golden parachute, your cronies will ensure that you land safely in some other comfy role. None of that having to adhere to company' data ownership malarkey.

<<sigh>> I am getting overly cynical of late<<sigh again for effect>>

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CFO

Does the CFO have no record of this debt?

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Personal emails

"European Privacy thing a while back which said that a company could not read personal emails sent to your company email account"

How do they know they are personal unless they read them ?

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Gold badge

Re: Personal emails

How do they know they are personal unless they read them ?

It depends on the contract in play. The burden falls on the stronger party to prove privacy was signed away and the account should be used for business exclusively (that never really happens, but it gives a company the only handle they have against a privacy claim). Absent a valid contractual statement, private use is assumed, and thus privacy protection applies.

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Silver badge

Ooh. Wouldn't this be sweet if it torpedoed the (latest) outsourcing fad? "We can't send the jobs to Elbonia, we'd have no oversight over their email. They could be up to anything behind our back!"

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They should have used email archiving

"Dockwise claims that Fairstar’s servers had deleted the emails when they sent them on to Adkins' other address, a claim that Adkins disagrees with."

This is why it can be a good idea for businesses to use some kind of server-side archiving on their email. If they'd automatically archived all incoming and outgoing emails then the emails would still be available.

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Devil

Re: They should have used email archiving

Except most companies prefer to make sure any "unnecessary" emails are deleted in a "timely" fashion.

This co-incidentally saves a lot of time and possible exposure in any pre-trial discovery that goes on.

Saves finding any 3 year old email from your head of QA saying that the product shouldn't be released in it current form or something.

Automatic archiving just creates a huge gold mine for the opposition lawyers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: deleted in a "timely" fashion.

Ha, yes... I've even tried persuading people that they do not need to keep every single thing that ever passes in or out of their mail box.

After that I took up giving singing lessons for hippopotami

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Facepalm

emails deleted.

Why don't more people think of that?

I'm not promoting getting up to dodgy stuff, in personal, commercial or political life, but I've always been amazed when those that do blatantly leave the evidence lying around, either electronically or on paper.

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Re: emails deleted.

In a lot of places (think NHS) it's actually mandated that employees KEEP all their emails, etc - this is usually in case someone puts in a FOI request or something later.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: emails deleted.

It probably is in many places, and a corporate email probably doesn't have to survive long before it is archived or backed up. This does not apply to personal, non-business addresses. It would probably be hard to prove that such a mail ever existed, let alone its contents. Yet... people keep this stuff hanging around. They even use the corporate/official backed-up/archived system for their messings around.

This case seems to centre on mails that might have existed, and what they might have said if they did It's all rather vague.

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Bronze badge

Just how many companys do ask an employee to sign such a nottery covering email I certainly have not.I just called our remote customer support and asked an email account to be set up,there was neither a verbal or written advisory even suggesting such policy.

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Gmail?

So how does this play out for a company whose staff are all or Gmail or equivalent.....?

The company no longer has any way to recover the email of people who have left?

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Anonymous Coward

Don't sign, don't get access.

When the IT policy was written at our work there was a small group of people that refused to sign (fair enough that's their right). They were locked out of the network completely within a week.

Cue a meeting involving the MD, them and lowly ole me (it admin). After revealing that they had been the source of a virus outbreak, and also they spent more time surfing "adult sites" than working they signed.

Oh and got a bollocking too. :D

Anon as I'm not stupid.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Don't sign, don't get access.

Probably got what they deserved, but doesn't the legality of that depend on the employment contracts they had at the time?

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Silver badge
FAIL

Cock-up, not conspiracy.

Somebody failed to do their Due Diligence properly, and it wasn't the CEO of Fairstar.

Somebody's going to get either a severe bollocking, or, (depending on their contract and pay grade), the sack over this. That 'somebody' will be a Dockwise employee somewhere in one of the management tiers. And they'll deserve it too. Failing to check Fairstar's accounts are solid before buying them up is what Due Diligence is for.

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Silver badge
FAIL

Why has it taken the IT focused El Reg nearly two weeks to relate this story when it appeared in The Independent on the 2nd of November?

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