United States v. Ziegler, 456 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir. 2006)

After the owner of Frontline Processing contacted the FBI with a tip that an employee, Brian Ziegler, had accessed child pornography on the Internet from a workplace computer, Frontline entered Ziegler’s locked office and made a copy of the computer’s hard drive, which was provided to the FBI. Forensic examiners at the FBI discovered many images of child pornography on the hard drive. A federal grand jury handed down a three-count indictment charging Ziegler with receipt and possession of child pornography and receipt of obscene material in violation of federal law. Ziegler pled not guilty and filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the hard drive, arguing the FBI had violated his Fourth Amendment rights by directing Frontline to search his computer. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s order denying the motion to suppress on the ground that Ziegler had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the Internet files he accessed from Frontline’s computer. Citing California law, the Court held that “social norms suggest that employees are not entitled to privacy in the use of workplace computers, which belong to their employers and pose significant dangers in terms of diminished productivity and even employer liability.” The Court further observed that employer monitoring of company computers is “largely an assumed practice” and that a “disseminated computeruse policy is entirely sufficient to defeat any expectation [of privacy] that an employee might nonetheless harbor.” Compare Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc., 2006 WL 2640234 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006) (residential facility for abused children failed to show on summary judgment that employees had diminished expectation of privacy in their office); cf. Leon v. IDX Sys. Corp., 2006 WL 2684512 (9th Cir. 2006) (dismissal of employment claims and $65,000 in sanctions upheld where former employee deleted 2,200 files from employer’s laptop computer).