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Searching government offices and computers
By Barry Tarlow
RICO Report columns.
Government agencies, like private
employers, are entitled to ensure that employees comply with workplace rules. See
Connick v. Meyers, 461 U.S. 138, 143 (1983) (employee may be terminated for
speech that did not touch on matter of public concern that could affect morale
of workplace). Private employers are free to search employee work areas without
probable cause to suspect wrongdoing, and certainly without first obtaining
authorization from a judge. Yet government employers, as state actors, are
limited by the Fourth Amendment in their ability to intrude into employees’
protected privacy interests.
A fairly typical concern in the
modern workplace is the misuse of computers by employees who surf the Internet
for non-work-related purposes. See Urofsky v. Gilmore, 216 F.3d 401, 404
(4th Cir. 2000)(holding constitutional Virginia statute prohibiting state
employees from viewing sexually explicit material on state-owned or leased
computers). Sometimes an employee’s misuse o
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