John and Mary are co-workers. They are also Facebook friends. And both John and Mary have adjusted their respective Facebook privacy settings such that only Facebook friends can view what they post online from their individual accounts. Consequently, John and Mary can view each other's Facebook posts, but Sam the Supervisor, who is also on Facebook, cannot. Neither John nor Mary are Facebook friends with Sam.
ABC Company, John and Mary's employer, wants access to Mary's Facebook account. On behalf of ABC, Sam demands that John login to his Facebook account on a work computer and then allow Sam to shoulder surf as John views Mary's Facebook postings. Fearing for his job, John relents.
Does Mary have a claim against ABC Company for invasion of privacy?
The answer, according to a NJ federal court, is yes:
The Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for invasion of privacy, especially given the open-ended nature of the case law. Plaintiff may have had a reasonable expectation that her Facebook posting would remain private, considering that she actively took steps to protect her Facebook page from public viewing.
The court suggested that whether a Facebook user has a reasonable expectation of privacy in her Facebook postings could hinge on her number of Facebook friends; the more friends, the more people who can view her posts, and the lesser the reasonable expectation of privacy. Ultimately, however, decisions regarding reasonableness are highly fact-sensitive inquiries. As such, that would be up to a jury to decide.
Therefore, if ABC Company happens to be [insert name of your company here], would you want a jury of Facebook users deciding the fate of your business on an employee's invasion of privacy claim?
Don't shoulder surf.
This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog, The Employer Handbook.
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