'Don't Think This is Legal': Employee Backed for Questioning Tech Searches

Members of a popular internet forum showed support for one skeptical employee who questioned the legality of their employer's privacy policy.

In a viral Reddit post published on r/antiwork, Redditor u/pretendlawyer13 (otherwise referred to as the original poster, or OP) said their employer's human resources department recently informed staff members that their personal cell phones would be subject to random searches.

Titled, "HR told us they can search our personal phones anytime they want," the viral post has received nearly 21,000 votes and 2,300 comments in the last eight hours.

"Today during an HR meeting employees were told that since we use our phones for work-related things (i.e. phone calls to other employees/managers/customers, texts, pictures, maps)...that our phones can be searched at any time," the original poster wrote.

Explaining that employees are not provided with devices dedicated to company business, the original poster expressed their skepticism for random cell phone searches.

"I don't think this is legal," they wrote. "I think they need a warrant or subpoena if they wanted anything personal from me."

Employer searching personal devices
Redditors were quick to respond to one employee who said their employer threatened random searches of personal devices at "anytime they want." Everyday better to do everything you love/iStock / Getty Images Plus

In 2019, popular business media outlet Fast Company took a deep dive into employer-sponsored searches of employees' personal devices in an article pointedly titled, "If you use your personal phone for work, say goodbye to your privacy."

By examining the case of one former Google employee, whose personal cell phone was wiped clean after their firing, Fast Company revealed that in cases when employees are required to use their own devices to complete work tasks (with communication applications, company software, etc.) there is a much greater risk for around-the-clock monitoring.

"There are many legitimate reasons why a company might want to use this tech: It allows them to implement security measures for protecting company data in email and other apps," Fast Company writer Sean Captain wrote.

"But they can also spy on you, or wipe out all your data," Captain added.

Despite the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which "prohibits intentionally accessing a computer without authorization or in excess of authorization," the definition of authority as it pertains to computer privacy remains ambiguous.

Due to a lack of clarity surrounding personal device privacy, it is recommended that employees are issued company-owned equipment in order to complete work-related tasks.

"If a company says you have to be online, they should provide the gear to do it," Captain asserted. "Annoying as it is to lug two gadgets around, the annoyance (and danger) of surrendering your own device to corporate control is a lot worse."

Throughout the viral Reddit post's comment section, countless Redditors loudly echoed this sentiment.

"Stop using your personal phone for work," Redditor u/ShakespearOnIce wrote in the post's top comment, which has received more than 15,000 votes.

"If they complain about it, tell them to provide you with the tools you need to work," they added.

Redditor u/OldGreyFoxx, whose comment has received more than 8,500 votes, offered a similar response.

"Tell HR that you aren't comfortable shouldering the expense of the company's security protocol, and that at your level of compensation, a device should be provided," they wrote.

"They are overstepping," Redditor u/cross9107 chimed in . "I would politely mention that work phones should be issued if they want the ability to search them."

"HR is delusional," Redditor u/reddogjrw wrote in a comment which has received more than 5,000 votes.

"People should just stop using their personal phones for work and see how that goes," they added.

In a separate comment, Redditor u/WillArrr fleshed out the ideas of numerous other commenters.

"If they want full access to a device, then the company can provide one for you," they wrote. "If the company will not provide one and HR still insists on full access, completely stop using your phone for work."

"Need to make a call from the field?" Drive your a** back to the office and call from a landline there," they added. "This sh*t will end real quick if even a handful of employees call their bluff."