California Senator Defends Vetoed Bill

The sponsor of a California bill that would have made it illegal for employers to covertly monitor the e-mail of their employees said such a measure remains a necessity, despite a veto on Sunday.

Senate bill 1016, vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis (D), would have required employers to establish the right to monitor e-mail traffic and computer files by executing signed or electronically verifiable agreements.

Democratic state Sen. Debra Bowen, in an interview yesterday, said the state needs to codify employees' rights to know because few guidelines otherwise exist to protect privacy in the electronic workplace.

"We don't have a common societal set of expectations on what's private and what's not [electronically at work]," Bowen said, adding that, "e-mail is accessed through passwords, which can give people the expectation of privacy where none may exist."

Bowen said employees often discuss work-related issues via e-mail, including disagreements with management or unhappiness on the job, and would be less likely to put that sensitive information in a message with the knowledge that it is being monitored. "The issue won't go away," Bowen said. "We need reasonable expectations for privacy at work."

Davis cited the "common sense" approach in dismissing the bill, stating that "employees in today's wired economy understand that computers provided for business purposes are company property and that their use may be monitored and controlled." He also noted that under current law, employers potentially are liable if their employees use computers for improper purposes such as sexual harassment or defamation.

Davis argued that the bill would put an unnecessary strain on employers and incite frivolous litigation from employees. "This bill places unnecessary and complicating obligations on employers...shifting the burden of proof to the employer is likely to lead to litigation by affected employees over whether the required notice was provided, when, in what form, and similar quibbling," Davis said.

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